Chance » Reflections » Paul

No more biking in the hallway

Jan Paul / Professor Emeritus, Luleå University of Technology and Vice President, JANNEKFUEL Inc.

03 April 2011

Biographic information tell Britton Chance was a Guggenheim scholar at the Nobel Institute in Stockholm 1946-48. At this time my father, the late Karl-Gustav Paul, was a graduate student of Hugo Theorell’s and this was the beginning of a life-long friendship and the reason my father always awaited his next visit to Philadelphia and a chance to walk under the magnolia on Society Hill. Brit was a sailor and enjoyed trips with Theo, my father and some of the other presumptive boatsmen at the institute. Today, only Anders Ehrenberg can tell who enjoyed and who dreaded those trips as well as the mandatory visit to Blomberg´s yard at Ramsö island on a cold April weekend. Brit returned to Sweden many times, each time making new friends. A handsome, outstanding American scientist and sailor didn’t go unnoticed and once that far his wit crossed every barrier. From Ramsö, an uninterrupted line of islands stretches to Helsinki where BC proved to be the best in the 1952 Olympic Regatta. On November 8, 1960 a devastating fire at Blomberg’s removed the joy of sailing these waters.

My father often brought me along to the institute on his reoccurring visits after a family weekend. A crowded cage with rats in need of an injection meant I learned the logics of two cages: Treated and untreated rats and a firm grip on the one caught in his left hand with the syringe in the right. I preferred the alternative pile of horseradish to be ground, mixed with a smelling liquid and passed through separation stages with the final reward: two brown bands, one slightly wider than the other, but always in a cold room for a 4-year old. Worse, though, was the ring of white coats in the hallway outside. All mountainously high, all alike: Theo, Brit, Anders, Åke and my father. Relief when we scampered over to the greenhouse at the biology department. Gently picking soy plants from a couple of trays. Much like Jules Verne´s Professor Lindenbrook, but our task was to verify little lumps on the root. Occasionally we brought something home. Delicious cream left from spinning milk straight from the cow or a big tank of the brownish water which we spread in the garden. – It will grow better, my father said and he was, as always, right.

My father was cheerful when packing for a trip to Philly. Naturally, he stopped at other places for a talk or to pick up and deliver samples of hemeproteins, but Hamilton Walk and Spruce was his second home and HRP his main asset. Per-Ingvar ground four tons of root in thirty years followed by one ton of milk in the 70’s and 80’s, but twenty years after my father´s death the supplies he left are running low ! Most appropriate, U.Penna got the last of the LPO.

Once, when I lived in Central Jersey, my father was in tears on the platform at Princeton Junction. Certainly not at the prospect of dinner at Salad Alley, but the end of this visit to the US was getting near. As it turned out his last visit ever to Brit, Jane, Sally and Takashi.

Fortunate for me a few days later, I could take a couple of days off from my regular tasks of surface science. After all, bioinorganic chemistry is also catalysis and my big boss was a colleague of Linda’s, the Queen of X-ray scattering. Friendly as ever, Dr. Chance let me stay at his guest house on Spruce, sharing the impressive roaches my father fed before returning to Sweden. The few steps from the bed to the bathroom felt like a beach filled with shells, but the host’s scientific record was evident. The library of the guesthouse was stacked with well organized reprints beyond count. Next morning, I got a head’s start to the lab which was impressive, but he beat me in the end when zooming through the hallway from a different elevator and parking his bike at the intersection between the library and the administrative center. More impressive than Brit´s ability to obtain a special indoor bike permit without asking for it, though, was his ability to maintain ten different conversations intermittently for hours. Necessary administrative tasks, preparation for the weekly get-together in the library, scientific discussions with three people and the final hand on an USN grant application to keep everything afloat.

On Friday afternoon, the course was set to sailing and timing was essential. Not a good time to be late when we departed from Spruce, nor time for shopping except for seafood and local produce at well acquainted places on the road to the Jersey shore. Characteristic of a humanitarian, he even remembered my affection for pears. Five minutes after arrival at the house in Toms River we took off to the marina with BC anxiously checking the time. Everybody on-board and maximum speed to catch high tide at Barnegat Inlet. Yesterday’s never-ending discussion on energy dissipation in hemeproteins continued while Brit was checking for the deepest section through the moving sand, chatting with his sailing buddies on short-wave radio and keeping an eye that I was using the available wind. Current and wind is the common way sailing the Jersey shore, but since half a century Brit also knew the straits of the Stockholm archipelago better than I. Back at the house everybody prepared supper together, though I didn’t get the common American welcome beer in the kitchen. On the contrary, scallops and tubers in the steamer is as healthy as you may want and my father would have copied this procedure to his home outside Umeå. KALLES KAVIAR was the one treat he brought westward, much to the joy of Brit’s and confusion of customs officers.

At night I got another acquaintance. The guest quarters were home to ants, positively related to the roaches on Spruce or escaped mutants from forced evolution at the nearby power plant. Brit was always thinking of science and I absorbed whatever I could of connections between basic science and technology. Dr. Chance was much engaged in the Science Center and various cultural activities in Philadelphia. Back in Jersey John Sinfeldt would continue to lecture me on science and contemporary history but in the spring we should all rejoin the Founding Fathers of Science on Society Hill, the pastures of Colorado or shipyards in Stockholm.

Long before I came to Philadelphia my father brought me to Dahlem, in SW Berlin. One year after the death of the Master of oxygen transfer we were standing outside his laboratory in a neighbourhood reminiscent of Spruce. This is one ancestral home of ivy covered institutes, but I forgot to ask if Brit ever was there. Not unlikely considering the vicinity of Wannsee even if Anders claims the Master and BC did not always share the same interests. Keilin’s Cambridge is a second ancestral institute and an obvious meeting point for cytochrome research until 1952. Does one need a cold-room inside the Pearly Gates when relic radiation is the only source? With Theo, Otto and KG discussing relentlessly and Bo G hissing from the boiler room, Brit takes off on newly designed wings.

– Jan Anders Karl Paul