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In memoriam: Britton Chance, biomedical pioneer

17 November 2010

Britton Chance

Britton Chance passed away peacefully on 16 November at the age of 97, with his wife, Shoko Nioka, at his side.

Chance was the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Biophysics, as well as Professor Emeritus of Physical Chemistry and Radiological Physics at the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). Chance obtained two PhDs, one in physical chemistry at the Penn in 1940, and one in biology/physiology at Cambridge University in 1942. He became a member of Penn faculty in 1941 when he was appointed Assistant Professor of Biophysics and Physical Biochemistry in the School of Medicine.

As noted in a Penn biography, Chance made important contributions not only in the identification of and functioning of enzyme-substrate compounds, but also in such varied areas as magnetic resonance spectroscopy in humans, the mathematics of the inverse problem, rf electronics, light transport in highly scattering media, breast cancer diagnostics, and muscle dynamics. His pioneering research has transformed the field of biomedical optics, including his efforts to develop spectroscopy as a noninvasive analytical tool for clinical diagnosis.

Chance was an SPIE Fellow, nominated for "overwhelming contributions to the field of biomedical optics." He co-edited the SPIE Press book: Medical Optical Tomography: Functional Imaging and Monitoring, and had been an Editor of the SPIE Journal of Biomedical Optics since its founding in 1996. He was a long-time member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. In 1974 he was awarded the National Medal of Science, and numerous other honors and international prizes have followed. His generosity closer to home is reflected in his founding of the Chance Chair for the Department of Radiology at Penn.

A lifelong sailor, Chance was a member of the U.S. Olympic yacht team, which won a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics.

His wife suggests gifts be made to the Johnson Research Foundation. Donations should be made payable to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and should indicate that the gift is for the Johnson Research Foundation, addressed to Penn Medicine Development, Suite 750, 3535 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3309.

Video: SPIE interview with Britton Chance -- he talks about how he got into the field, and offers advice for students (October 2004).

Read the full obituary in the Los Angeles Times.