Photo of Britton Chance

Britton Chance

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his contributions to our knowledge of cellular and subcellular physiology made through work on enzyme-substrate complexes, on the kinetics of enzyme action, and on the mechanism and control of membrane-bound electron transfer during cellular respiration.

When it comes to both brains and brawn, few scientists compare to Britton Chance. The biophysicist – best known for his research of chemical reactions within the body – earned a gold medal for sailing in the 5.5-meter class at the 1952 summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Through his mid-80s, Chance traveled on his 10-speed bicycle to his research lab in Philadelphia, where he worked 12-hour days, six days a week, developing diagnostic tools to detect afflictions like breast cancer.

Early in his career, Chance invented the “stopped-flow apparatus,” used to mimic and measure chemical reactions of enzymes that occur in nature.

Two syringes in the device – one filled with enzymes and the other with an agent called “substrate” – empty simultaneously into a spectrophotometer, where rapid reactions could be studied.

The ability to observe these reactions has helped scientists determine the rate at which enzymes perform, prompting discoveries in bodily functions including metabolism.