Emmett Chappelle was a African American Scientist and one who contributed greatly to Medicine, Philanthropy, and Astrochemistry. Chapelle was born on October 24, 1925 in Phoenix, Arizona where he grew up to attend Phoenix College. During his time at Phoenix college, he received an Associate’s Degree in electrical engineering and then a Bachelor’s of Science in biology at the University of California. Following, Emmett Chappelle taught biochemistry at Meharry Medical College. He received many offers for his graduate studies which he completed for his Master’s Degree at the University of Washington. Continuing his studies, Chappelle earned a Ph.D at Stanford University for 4 years before leaving for a research position at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Maryland. After years of hard work, he moved on to work at NASA before moving on to work at the Goddard Space Flight.
While at NASA, where Chappelle worked as a Exobiologist and Astrochemist, he made several discoveries. Perhaps the most important aspect of his work in the field of biology was his exploration of how light is given off by different organisms. Chappelle learned that certain chemicals give off light when mixed with living cells as long as adenosine triphosphate is present, and use this finding to detect bacteria in various samples, including bodily fluids, water, and other foods. Chappelle used this knowledge to develop a means to determine the health of plants. By measuring the amount of fluorescents emitted by plants in a forest, he was able to determine the amount of photosynthesis occurring within that forest. Chappelle’s study of the enzymes luciferin and luciferase, used by fireflies, to make their cells glow paved the path for many current scientists who still use these chemicals as florescent tags to see cancer cells.
Chappelle was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his discoveries related to bioluminescence and the important roles they have played in many fields of science. Aside from his recognition for his scientific discoveries that earned him 14 US patents, Chappelle was also respected for his service in the United States Army and for the time he spent mentoring minority high school and college students. Although he passed away in October of 2019, Chappelle will long be remembered for his many contributions to science.