Remembering Britton Chance
The world of science has lost a champion. Britton Chance, the Elridge Reeves Johnson Emeritus Professor of Biophysics, Physical Biochemistry, and Physics, died in the early morning of November 16, 2010 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia , PA. He was 97 years old.
Brit (often called BC) had a worldwide reputation for his outstanding contributions to science. He published over 1200 papers and trained hundreds of young scientists. His enthusiasm for science, his undefeatable energy for work at the bench, and his endless curiosity coupled with his many talents as an inventor, engineer, chemist, and leader are legendary.
Britton Chance was born July 24, 1913 in Wilkes Barre, PA. His father and his uncle were both successful mining engineers who made seminal discoveries in coal mining. Brit's father is credited with the development of a carbon monoxide detector that replaced the ancient tradition of using canaries as detectors while his uncle developed the commercialization of a technique for separating coal from shale. It was this atmosphere that exposed Brit to thinking as an engineer – a process that served as the foundation for his life in science.
When Brit was a teenager, the Chance family moved to Philadelphia where Brit proved to be an average student at the Haverford School- however, the Chance family also owned a large summer house in Mantoloking, New Jersey (about a 2 hours drive from Philadelphia). It was here that Brit developed his passion for sailing – a love that remained for the duration of his life. Brit was a skilled sailor, boat designer, and spirited enthusiast: he won the Olympic Gold Medal in yachting in 1952 at Helsinki, Finland.
Many articles have been published describing Brit's outstanding scientific contributions. As one tries to summarize these scientific accomplishments, one soon recognizes the central theme of Brit's early exposure to engineering and the associated drive and curiosity to "learn how a system works". Brit applied this approach to a wide diversity of topics in biology and chemistry starting with his work using stop-flow techniques to measure the rapid kinetics of enzyme reactions. This was followed by his studies of catalase, peroxidases, and reactions of hydrogen peroxide metabolism: mitochondrial electron transport and energy conservation reactions; the conversion of light energy to chemical energy by photosynthesis; and most recently, the development of methods for detecting cancerous areas in the breast and physical techniques to evaluate psychological changes in behavior. This is a limited listing of Brit's many interests and a tasting of the contributions touched by Brit's fertile mind and unlimited curiosity.
In addition to Brit's many contributions to science, of greater importance is the role he played as a mentor and example for the training of a large cadre of post-doctoral fellows. Each year we all awaited the arrival of his Christmas card identifying the current roll-call of members of the Johnson Foundation.
As Brits scientific reputation grew, the Johnson Foundation became a Mecca for research training of young people from all corners of the world. If one has to identify a weakness of Brit's, it was the fact that he had difficulty saying "No". Soon, space became a major problem at the Johnson Foundation. The allotted space was reduced to a few square feet per person on a laboratory bench - space that served as a desk, surface for conducting experiments, and storage of books and papers. In addition Brit changed his modus operendi for interacting with young post-doctoral fellows. Often a fellow would arrive at the lab to find a cryptic note from Brit asking for information on the experiments done. This challenge required incisive thinking by the trainee – an important part of the training program.
The responsibilities carried by Brit would be overwhelming for a normal person. But Brit compensated by working harder and longer. He was generally the first person in the laboratory each morning. For those who arrived early they would find Brit working at his desk dictating letters or calculating data (and occasionally reading the latest issue of a yachting journal). It was this quiet time that recharged Brit for a full days of work...
When the death of Brit was announced many of us reacted with disbelieve, followed by sadness, and then a flood of personal memories of times with Brit. We remember the daily ritual of noon-time seminars presented by a constant stream of distinguished visitors that traveled to Philadelphia to work with Brit and his remarkable machines. Brit always sat at the center table in the library with his spiral notebook open in front of him to record the highlights of the talks while eating grapes (Brit loved grapes). On occasion there would be a dinner at Brit's house to which Brit often invited young post-docs from the lab. These dinners were famous for the collegiality and thrill of meeting Nobel Prize winners and enjoying the chateaubriand cooked to perfection by Mamie. On the difficult side was the day a community coffee pot was introduced into the Johnson Foundation (at that time located on the 7th floor of the Maloney Building). Brit was an avid tea drinker and did not have any enthusiasm for coffee.
The last story concerns a Christmas party held in the living room of 41 South Pine. A skit was presented that was scripted by Joe Higgins titled "Life with Englander Fate". It highlighted many of the idiosyncrasies of Brit. It was hilarious. There are so many more stories to tell that are part of the lore of the Johnson Foundation and Britton Chance.
A great man has left us and we have a vacancy in our hearts. Many people owe their successful future careers to the training they received while working with Brit. A bond of friendship was fostered and practiced by Brit for those who worked with him at the JF. This was a unique time in the history of biochemistry and the biomedical sciences. Only a few of us had the opportunity to be colleagues of Brit's. He made a lasting impression on each of us. We will miss this unique man.
Paul Hochstein, 84, was born in February 1926, and died
Saturday, June 12, 2010, at his home in Cambria, CA.
Although Paul Hochstein had impeccable credentials as a
scientist, he chose to spend the last 13 years working as an
artist in Cambria. He did not find that to be inconsistent. He
said, "Scientists and artists are cast from the same mold.
They both start with imagination and insights that lead to
ideas that can be tested experimentally. Both of them would
like their experiments to be elegant, pleasing and even
convincing." Born in New York City of Russian-Jewish
immigrant parents, he graduated from the elite Bronx High School of Science. He served three
years in the infantry in Europe during World War II and
fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He then returned to the
U.S. to obtain a B.S. degree at Rutgers University and went
on to obtain his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the
University of Maryland. Dr. Hochstein did postdoctoral
training at the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National
Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. Over the years, he has
held faculty positions in the Colleges of Medicine at
Columbia University, Duke University and the University
of Southern California. He has also held Visiting
Professorships at the Universities of Stockholm, London, and Genoa. At USC, he became the
founding Director of the Institute for Toxicology and an Associate Dean for
Research and Graduate Education. Pioneering in the field of oxygen and free-
radical biochemistry in relation to human disease, he made milestone
contributions in this area of research. He is the author of over 200 scientific
publications and was recognized worldwide for his accomplishments. He
served on numerous editorial boards and as a consultant to both government
and industry. The recipient of many awards, he held honorary doctoral
degrees from the University of Stockholm and the University of Buenos
Aires. He was a distinguished Professor Emeritus of Molecular
Pharmacology and Toxicology and Biochemistry at the University of
In the mid 80's, Paul Hochstein started at the USC
School of Pharmacy the STAR (Science, Technology, and Research)
program that provides the Bravo Medical Magnet high school students the
opportunity to learn science by joining a USC research team. At that time,
the STAR program was the only science education program of its kind in the
nation. Paul was a lifetime member of the Oxygen Club of California and his
painting Afternoon graced the OCC website for many years. Paul Hochstein's
record in science is well documented in the scientific literature. His paintings and sculptures can
be viewed at www.paulhochstein.com. The test of time that scientific discoveries are
remembered for may be short lived because of the phenomenal rapid pace of scientific discovery.
However, the pleasure of enjoying beautiful art is virtually timeless. Thus, the memory of Paul
Hochstein both as a scholar and as a man will stand the test of time.