Chance » Reflections » Powers

A Beacon for Creativity and Innovation – Britton Chance

Linda Powers/ University of Arizona

12 April 2011

My first encounter with BC was through an introduction by Paul Mueller when I was in my last year of graduate school. BC offered me a post-doc position at the JF, but I chose to take a scientific staff position at AT&T Bell Labs. Fortunately, this was not a show- stopper and we decided to start a collaboration. This was 1976. Between 1978 and 1996, we published over 40 articles in refereed journals and books on investigations ranging from the structure and function of biomembranes to the structure-function relationship of metal centers in enzymes and proteins. Since both of us were closet engineers, we also developed instrumentation for x-ray absorption spectroscopy, optical spectroscopy, and the control and measurement of radiation damage to biomolecules.

The work on the structure-function relationship of the metal centers included cytochrome oxidase, hemeprotein catalysts [peroxidases, catalases], copper proteins, zinc proteins, Reiske clusters, and the geminate states of photolyzed carboxy-myoglobin at low temperatures. This latter work correlated the observed structural changes near the heme iron with the optical absorption spectra of the geminate states.

Instrumentation included new methods to collect x-ray absorption and optical data simultaneously, cells for stabilizing samples at low temperature during synchrotron x-ray exposure, plastic scintillator detectors for x-ray fluorescence, LiF bent-crystal focusing arrays for collection of low-Z x-ray fluorescence, freeze quenched methods for samples to be studied, and fast electronics for better data collection and x-ray beam intensity stabilization.

From 1976, BC was a mentor, beloved friend, and one of my favorite people. It is clear that his interest in my advancement profoundly helped my career, even in ways that I am not aware of... it is really immeasurable. No matter what crazy idea I wanted to try, we would either outright agree [after considerable defense on my part] or he would carefully guide my thinking so that the whole endeavor made sense. We also shared other interests such as sailing, navigation, music, photography, and chocolate - to mention a few. Needless to say, I have many anecdotal stories and a few pictures. It was really an incredible gift to have such a brilliant, wise, and caring mentor. I will miss him greatly.

The truly wonderful thing about BC and maybe the most significant contribution he made to society was his blindness to gender, race, or origin. He simply did not care. If you had interest and talent, he was there to help. He supported women, minorities, and foreigners when it was not a fashionable [or government mandated] thing to do. Look around you at the contributions he mentored and the example he set for all of us to follow! This is awesome and inspiring.

– Linda S. Powers, PhD, FAPS, FAIC

Thomas R. Brown Chair for Bioengineering
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
University of Arizona