Emmett Chappelle (1925-2019)

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Emmett Chappelle, inventor, was born in Phoenix, Arizona on October 25, 1925. His scientific research and the 14 United States patents he received for his inventions make Chapelle’s contributions vital to the scientific world. Much about Chappelle’s earlier life cannot be ascertained. He attended the University of California in 1950 and in 1954 received a Bachelor of Science degree. Remarkably, without graduate training, he then worked as an instructor of biochemistry for three years at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1953 he enrolled at the University of Washington where he pursued advanced degrees. Chappelle earned a Master’s in Science with a focus on biochemistry in 1954 but never completed a Ph.D. Instead he worked for various companies as a biochemist and during that period received the first of the 14 U.S patents.

By 1966 Chappelle was employed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he was an exobiologist (someone who engaged in the search for extraterrestrial life and the effects of extraterrestrial surroundings on living organisms) and astrochemist (the chemistry of astronomical objects and interstellar space). In 1977 Chappelle went on to work for the Goddard Space Flight Center where he was a scientific analyst responsible for monitoring remote sensing devices.

Some of his work includes the detection of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an important compound in all living organisms. Through the patented method he developed, exobiologists are able to more speedily detect bacteria outside the earth’s atmosphere. The presence of bacteria is considered strong evidence for extraterrestrial life. Chappelle also discovered a method for determining the health of forest vegetation. His method measures the amount of fluorescence over a forest and monitors the amount of photosynthesis in a selected area. Chappelle has also produced more than 35 peer-reviewed scientific or technical publications, nearly 50 conference papers, and co-authored or edited numerous publications.

Emmett Chappelle retired in 2001. He died from renal failure at his home in Baltimore on October 14, 2019.