Brit was a colossus
David Lloyd / Cardiff University
20 April 2011
Brit was a colossus who knew exactly how to get the best from everyone: interaction with him was always such a delight. At my first meeting with him, arranged to occur during a 1966 conference in Cambridge, I wondered why it was that he wrote everything down. I have since learned that he always did that and in time the wisdom of doing so : in his long career he filled many yards of meticulously filed notebooks. Others have written of his infectious enthusiasm, his incredibly hard-working habits, and his dedication to scientific endeavour. I remember also his solicitous concern when as a very young first time visitor to the JF (and to the USA) in 1967 receiving fatherly advice from Brit on keeping a few bucks separately on the person when wandering the streets of Philadelphia. Again at the July68 FEBS Meeting in Prague, where he came to all 3 of our Cardiff talks, he was so friendly and helpful to the students who eventually also published with him.
I would like to add my personal opinion that he seemed omniscient. His mastery of electronic devices was of course legendry: that much practised touch on the gain control as he wandered past that stopped the Esterline Angus pens flying too wildly. My exposure to the wonderland of his unique range of new biophysical instrumentation was indeed a revelation. And how, in a very few words, he would point to the heart of the matter, and perhaps hand you a small slip of paper with a few key names elaborating on his direction of thought. For me in 1977 those names were Jones and Jobsis. Brit’s biological systems for study ranged then from Photobacterium and Rhodopseudomonas, to mitochondria from yeast, beef heart and avocados, to the electric eel: he was interested in everything. To hear at all those daily lunchtime seminars the latest from all the biggest names in bioenergetics was indeed a fast-track education. One never escapes one’s formative years. These deep impressions have not only stayed with me for the best part of a lifetime but shaped almost all my own research. Also so pivotal was meeting many of the next-generation of leading enthusiasts (eg. Pabitra Maitra, Amal Ghosh, Hans Degn, Ken Pye, Dave Harrison) soon to form a world-wide network for further collaborations.
More recently, Brit was delighted to hear that we had taken up with in vivo yeast respiratory oscillations, and a decade ago wrote to tell me that. But he expressed puzzlement that so many different agents produced amplitude modulation and phase-shifting effects. The basis of this turns out to be that a mitochondrial clock with a NAD(P)H / GSH / ROS redox core constitutes the time-base for synchronization across the global cellular network.
I suspect that anyway he had long known that better than most! In 2008 it was my great privilege to dedicate an edited volume entitled “Ultradian Rhythms from Molecules to Mind : a New Vision of Life” to Britton Chance, a fitting tribute to his omniscience.
– David Lloyd, Professor of Microbiology, Cardiff University