Britton "Brit" ChanceForMemRS (July 24, 1913 – November 16, 2010) was an American biochemist, biophysicist, scholar, and inventor whose work helped develop spectroscopy as a way to diagnose medical problems. He was "a world leader in transforming theoretical science into useful biomedical and clinical applications" and is considered "the founder of the biomedical photonics." He received the National Medal of Science in 1974.
Chance was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His parents were Eleanor Kent and Edwin Mickley Chance, president of United Engineers and Constructors, Inc which built power plants. His father was also a mining engineer, chemist, and inventor who held a number of metallurgical patents and created a device that detected carbon monoxide in coal mines using a chemical reaction. Chance's paternal grandfather, Henry Martyn Chance, was a noted geologist and mining engineer who also had a medical degree.
Around the time he was 17, he invented an auto-steering device for ships, receiving a patent in 1937. He tested the device on a trip to the West Indies using his father's yacht in 1935. In March 1938, the General Electric Company hired him to test the auto-steering device on a round trip from England to Australia on the MS New Zealand Star, a 20,000-ton refrigerator ship. In return, the company paid his tuition to Cambridge University.
In 1938, Chance enrolled in Cambridge University. He came back to the United States to visit his parents but was unable to return to Cambridge and England because of World War II. He returned to the University of Pennsylvania and received a Ph.D degree in physical chemistry in 1940.
In 1943, he received a second Ph.D. from Cambridge University in biology and physiology, followed by a D.Sc. from Cambridge in 1952.
In 1941, Chance became an assistant professor of biophysics and physical biochemistry in the school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. During World War II, he worked for the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which was working on the development of radar. He became a member of the Steering Committee and head of the Precision Circuits Section, supervising some 300 physicists. They developed radar technology that allowed blimps to spot German submarines, as well as a “ground position indicator” to allow more accurate bombing. He also developed analog electronic computers to calculate non-linear processes and helped develop ENIAC, of the world's first general-purpose computer.
In 1949, he became a professor of biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and was appointed the second director of the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation for Research in Medical Physics, a position he held until 1983. He was then appointed E. R. Johnson Professor of Biophysics and Physical Biochemistry (later renamed as Biochemistry and Biophysics) in 1964 and university professor in 1977.
Early in his career, Chance worked on enzyme structure and function, developing methods to study the pre-steady-state phase of reactions. He invented the now standard stopped-flow device to measure the existence of the enzyme-substrate complex in enzyme reaction.
He is considered the founder of biomedical photonics, which is now a research field covering biology, medicine, and physics. Starting in the late 1980s, he developed various near-infrared spectroscopy and photon diffusion imaging methods. He was also a pioneer in the numerical simulations of biochemical reactions and metabolic pathways. In the 2000s, he developed molecular imaging beacons for cancer detection and diagnosis, predicting cancer aggressiveness in muscles, breast tissue, and the brain.
Chance published about 392 articles with 28947 citations (h = 92) as of 19 May 2022. The following is a selection of his key papers:
Chance, B. and Theorell, H. "Studies on liver alcohol dehydrogenase 2. The kinetics of the compound of horse liver alcohol dehydrogenase and reduced diphosphopyridine nucleotide." Acta Chemica Scandinavica. 5 (7-8): 1127-1144 (1951)
Chance, B. and Williams, G. R. "Respiratory enzymes in oxidative phosphorylation. I. Kinetics of oxygen utilization." Journal of Biological Chemistry. 217 (1) 383-393 (1955)
Chance, B. and Williams, G.R. "The respiratory chain and oxidative phosphorylation." Advances in Enzymology and Related Subjects of Biochemistry. 17: 65-134 (1956)
Chance, B; Ito, T. and Nishimura, M. "Studies on bacterial photophosphorylation 3. A sensitive and rapid method of determination of photophosphorylation." Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. 59 (1): 177-182 (1962)
Chance won many sailing championships through the Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association from the late 1930s to the 1950s, including coming in first place for Class E Sloops in the first-ever Barnegat Bay Regatta in 1938. In the 1950s and 1960s, he completed in the United States Olympic sailing trials and also chaired the national governing body of sailing. In March 1952, he won the Giovannelli Cup with his sailboat Complex in a regatta off of Lido Dabaro, Italy.
For the 1952 Summer Olympics, 5.5-meter class was a new category. Chance earned a spot on the United States Olympic team for the 5.5-meter class because he was the only entry in the trials; he had a 5.5-meter craft, Complex II, custom built as soon as the new Olympic category was announced. His crew consisted of friends and former crewmates from the Mantoloking Yacht Club—teenager Michael Schoettle and twins Edgar White and Sumner White.
In July 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, the US team won an Olympic gold medal in the 5.5 Metre Class, with Chance serving as helmsman and captain of the Complex II. They won three of seven races in the competition, but only won the gold because, in the seventh race, Chance blocked Norway's Peder Lunde’s wind, putting him out of contention. In 1955, he was elected treasurer of the United States Olympians, the organization of former Olympic athletes.
In 1956, he came in first place in Bermuda, winning the Edward Prince of Wales Trophy. In 1961, his team won the 5.5 Meter Class in the international Baltic Regatta sponsored by the U.S.S.R. He also won the 5.5 Metre Class World Championship in 1962 in England, sailing Complex III "with superb helmsmanship and clever sailing tactics"
Chance was inducted into the Barnegat Bay Sailing Hall of Fame in 2004. In an interview he said, “I wouldn’t be without sailing. That would be unendurable for me.”
Chance married seventeen-year-old Jane Earle on March 4, 1938. The two spent their three-month-long honeymoon on a ship bound for Australia, testing one of his inventions for British General Electric Co.
^Chance, B., Greenstein, D. S., Higgins, J. & Yang, C. C. The mechanism of catalase action. II. Electric analog computer studies. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 37, 322–339 (1952).
^Chance, Britton and Garfinkel, David and Higgins, Joseph and Hess, Benno. Metabolic control mechanisms. V. A solution for the equations representing interaction between glycolysis and respiration in ascites tumor cells. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 235, 2726-2439 (1960)