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Matthew George

Biochemist Matthew George was born on February 15, 1949 in Birmingham, Alabama. George was awarded an undergraduate scholarship to attend Wiley College in Marshall, Texas where he received his B.S. degree in chemistry and biology in 1971. George went on to earn his M.S. degree in microbiology and biochemistry in 1974 from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). In 1982, George graduated with his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

From 1981 to 1984, George studied genetics and biochemistry at the San Diego Zoo and the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. George’s career at Howard University College of Medicine began in 1984 when he became an assistant professor of biochemistry. In 1992, he was promoted to associate professor. George’s research focused on the evolution and interactions of mitochondrial DNA as well as cancer metastasis. He was instrumental in the development of the “mitochondrial Eve hypothesis,” which attempts to explain the origin of humankind. George studies the molecular structure and behavior of mitochondrial DNA which traced humans back to a common ancestor that lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Between 1995 and 1997, George served as senior scientist on the African Burial Ground Project where he traced 200 year old remains back to West African locations by analyzing DNA from bones. Since 2001, George has served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Howard University College of Medicine.

George has authored numerous scientific research articles, which have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Molecular Biological Evolution. In addition, his research has been funded by prestigious organizations such as the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Human Genome Research. His research on mitochondrial DNA was featured in the exhibit “Science in American Life,” found in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In addition to his research, George has mentored research students including several dissertation prize winners.

George lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife Yolanda George, who is an education program director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

George Matthew was interviewed by The HsitoryMakers on January 17, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.013

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/17/2013

Last Name

George

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Wiley College

Clark Atlanta University

University of California, Berkeley

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Matthew

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

GEO02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France, Florence, Italy

Favorite Quote

Be good.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

2/15/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pie (Sweet Potato)

Short Description

Biochemist and geneticist Matthew George (1949 - ) served as the senior scientist on the African Burial Ground Project in New York City.

Employment

Atlanta University

University of California, Berkeley

San Diego Zoo

National Cancer Institute

Howard University

National Center for Human Genome Research

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Matthew George's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Matthew George lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about his mother, her growing up and his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his father's relationship with his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his father's growing up, his career, and his paternal relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about how his parents met and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Matthew George talks about his likeness to his parents and his parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Matthew George describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Matthew George describes his childhood home in the Loveman's Village projects

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Matthew George talks about growing up in the projects and his influence on his brothers and sisters

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about his childhood memories, his upbringing in the church, and the evolution of his religious views

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about his appreciation of the newspaper and the bombing incidents in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Era

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his academic performance and his work ethic

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his elementary school teacher, Annie Mae Mitchell Smith

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about his father's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Matthew George talks about his mother's concerns about the Civil Rights Movement and the origin of the derogatory term, "bama"

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Matthew George talks about his childhood aspirations, his desire to be different, and his world view during his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about his high school's curricular structure

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about his experience being inducted into the National Honor Society in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his extracurricular activities and his social status in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his high school counselor, Ms. Coman, and her influence on his decision to attend Wiley College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about his decision to major in science at Wiley College and preparing for his high school Salutatorian speech

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Matthew George talks about his influence on his brothers and sisters

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Matthew George talks about his jobs during school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about segregation in Alabama

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about his trip to Marshall, Texas and his first night at Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his peers and the positive intellectual environment at Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his decision to major in science and his experience at Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about his studies, his professors, and his financial aid at Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Matthew George talks about his professors at Atlanta University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Matthew George talks about the faculty at Atlanta University and meeting his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about his wife and the birth of his son

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about him and his wife's experiences defending their theses

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about moving to California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his admittance to and his financial aid at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about the difference between covert racism and overt racism

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Matthew George talks about how he matched with his Ph.D. Advisor, Allan C. Wilson

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about his advisor's research interests

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about mitochondrial DNA and the mitochondrial Eve

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his colleague, Rebecca Cann, and his experiences working with her

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his work with his doctoral advisor and his experience getting his dissertation completed

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about his research with Oliver Ryder at the San Diego Zoo

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Matthew George describes his postdoctoral research at the National Cancer Institute, his appointment to Howard University, and his teaching influences

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Matthew George talks about his student, Daryl Basham, and the use of DNA fingerprinting in criminal investigation

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about the ethics regarding genetic testing and the risks associated with modifying DNA sequencing

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his work on the African Burial Ground Project with Michael Blakey

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about working with his wife

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about the challenges of doing research at an HBCU

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Matthew George reflects on his career

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Matthew George reflects on his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Matthew George talks about his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Matthew George talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Matthew George talks about his experience at the Science and American Life exhibit and being recognized

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Matthew George talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Matthew George describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$7

DAStory

3$4

DATitle
Matthew George talks about his experience being inducted into the National Honor Society in high school
Matthew George talks about his work on the African Burial Ground Project with Michael Blakey
Transcript
Also, during the 11th grade, one of my friends she came to me and said "Something good is gonna happen to you today." "What the heck are you talking about?" So you know we have assembly, and where you have these (unclear) monthly meetings and everything, and so I'm there in assembly with a bunch of my other friends, and I'm looking at the program, it's--you think it's gonna be dumb and boring which most of them were, but that particular day it's about the National Honor Society and suddenly you hear your name (laughter).$$So you were on it but didn't know it.$$Had no clue, but she knew. And the other thing about it was that it was a lot of other project kids that were being inducted at the same time. So we had the middle class kids who normally, you know, get inducted, and then there was us. It almost like a little first; it was like we were like the project slash ghetto kids being culled in with the middle class--the kids from the Honeysuckle Circles and the Honeysuckle Hills.$$Now that's a real name of a real group?$$Honeysuckle Circle, Honeysuckle Hill, okay? That was the name of the neighborhood. If you had a couple of bucks, you could get you a nice brick house, you could be an upper-class black person and you lived it. Fred Shuttlesworth (laughter); that's when it got bombed (laughter), okay? (Simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--On Honeysuckle Hill?$$Yeah, or something like that. But here's the kicker, and Yolanda's gonna get me for this (laughter). "Don't call any names." I'm sorry, it's a part of my life. Reverend [John Wesley] Rice lived in the Honeysuckle Circles and the Honeysuckle Hills. And he was the high school counselor.$$And Reverend Rice is the father of our former Secretary of State?$$Condoleezza's daddy.$$Condoleezza, okay.$$Okay? And so here it is, we're more or less, you know, busting up the show because we may not be the right type of people (laughter), but they can't deny the numbers, you know. We got the GPA's, we got the grades and things like that, but never once--at least me, I don't know about the others, but during those three years in high school, I never was counseled by Reverend Rice about a possibility or an opportunity to go to college.$$So--well wait a minute; now you're saying that you're in a National Honor Society--$$Yes.$$--you clearly are working above the level of the general course (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--But again--$$--but (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--remember what--remember, from the very beginning what I was told by my mom [Rosetta Johnson] to do when I go to school, right? That was, that was my mind set. This is how naive, this is just how dutiful I was, this is what I do. This is what I--I followed orders, rules and regulations.$$And you were the first in your family to get that far because you're the oldest, right?$$Yeah, oh yeah.$$So (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Yeah, I'm, I'm--every step I take you know, I'm breaking ground.$$Yeah, and I guess they're looking forward to just you graduating from high school, right?$$Exact--this is--they told me "All we can give you is a high school education. Everything else is on your own. This is why we cannot give you $35.00 for vocational school. We can make certain that you have enough food to eat, the lights on, heat is on, gas, all that kind of stuff. We will give you what you need. I will wash your clothes, I will iron your clothes, okay? You do the rest, okay?"$$But to think of Reverend Rice (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--I'm not trying to--$$(Simultaneous)--a counselor, I know you're not trying to do that, but if this is--I believe what you're saying that he didn't do it. If he didn't counsel you then, you know, he's missing an opportunity--I don't know if everybody with your qualifications didn't get counseled, but that seems like a really--that seems like something that really slipped by; a really important person that slipped past him that he should have helped.$$Well, like I said, it wasn't just me I mean--as I said, there were several other project kids that were also inducted at the time. It was the strangest honor society that they've ever had, you know. We weren't the best dressed, we weren't the most well-spoken or anything like that, but we were the kids that got the job done. We did well academically, and the rankings said this is where we belong, and once we got into the honor society for our high school, the whole set of dynamics changed, your know; it really changed. And we became little heroes, if you will, to all of the people that did not live in the Honeysuckle Circles and the Honeysuckle Hills; they were just like 'bout time, thank you guys, okay--and girls because it wasn't just guys, I mean there were some females that were inducted that year and they also didn't live in the right places. But as a little collective and as a group, they were so proud of us because we were them; we were them.$$Okay.$Now this is something that's really important for--in a lot of different ways in terms of a history project like I was in, is the African Burial Ground Project in New York City. Tell us--I guess you can just set it up by saying that construction workers discovered a gravesite--$$Emm hmm.$$--that was identified by archeologists, I guess, as an African burial ground--$$Right.$$--a place where Africans brought over here enslaved in New York City unloading boats and that sort of thing back in the 1600's I guess (simultaneous)--$$Yeah, today the bones are like--well we said 200 years old, so you can just extrapolate to, yeah.$$So the decision was to study those (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Well, right.$$(Simultaneous)--(Inaudible response).$$(Simultaneous)--Yeah, Michael Blakey, who used to be here in the Anthropology Department, was very much interested in that because, not only--by looking at the bones solely, you could look at--you could also tell about the work conditions, where the breaks occurred; is it on the clavicle, is it on the ribs, and things like that. Look in the clothing, what else is in the coffin gives you an idea what type of life these people led. The question then becomes well, where did these people come from? What is the origin of the skeletal remains? And so he wanted to have a genetic component to it, so from the anthropological part and sociological part, he was expert in that and he'd asked me to come on as a senior scientist to do the genetic part, so part of what I had wanted to do was to not only do that by using mitochondrial DNA because I knew how to isolate DNA from what we now call ancient materials--anything that's extinct or old--because you can do this technique called a Polymerase Chain Reaction so even minute amounts--you can put in specific little pieces of DNA to get large pieces of DNA back. Then you do DNA sequence and then you can see--compare what these sequences are closely related to in terms of different ethnic groups.$$What's that process called again?$$PCR, the Polymerase Chain Reaction. When that technique was developed, the person immediately got a Nobel Prize (laughter), okay? This is what gets people in trouble; this is your CSI. This is where your single strand of hair with a hair root and some DNA, this is what can be amplified to get--this is enough working material. Your DNA does not have to be purified; you put in the right set of primers, okay, that will actually allow you to amplify a specific set of sequences--that gold standard set of sequences, and they turn out to be yours, they got you. Lick a stamp, smoke a cigarette, wherever you get cells; this is why they say just rub the cheek cells, boom; break them open and DNA will spill out, get your probes in, and you're good. So I wanted to use that technique by using hair samples, so I just use--and you wanted--since the technique is so sensitive, you've got to make certain that your sample is not contaminated, to you have to test yourself, you have to test the workers around you to make certain that the sequences that you finally get back are those only from the bone. So I'd also wanted to mix in trained graduate students in Howard to use this technique and so it takes time when you're trying to get students who have little to no experience in a laboratory. So my end of the deal was a little bit slower than Michael would have like to see and this is where Rick Kittles came in; he's working solo, independent at NIH [National Institutes of Health] and everything like that; all he's doing is research. But that's beside the point; in the end, using the set of primers that I had for mitochondrial DNA and doing the DNA sequence, we were able to determine that the skeletal remains were from a region in West Africa, in a so-called Yoruba Tribe, and that worked out really well. And the other thing about grave sites like that is that, just as I told you early on about working for a dollar and a dime cutting grass in Elmwood Cemetery, slave graves were always kept separate from the white graves too, so that's another thing that made it useful in terms of like 'hey, what we're gonna find here is simply gonna be a slave or African origin,' and so that led the sociology and sociological part of anthropology as well, so then physical anthropologies, bones, the cultural parties, the social anthropology, so it's a huge team, large effort; and I think it paid off in a whole number of ways.$$Okay. So, you started this project in 1995--$$Emm hmm.$$--and I think it reached its conclusion with a publication of the findings (simultaneous)--$$Right, in 2009--$$(Simultaneous)--2009. Okay, that was a long time.$$Yeah, there was a lot of work. And you know, if you were to take a look on my book shelf, you could see--it was funded by the GSA, the government--what is it, the Government Services Administration?$$Emm hmm.$$Yeah. It was General Services Administration.$$Emm hmm.$$It was a tremendous number of people, and some things--there was some politics involved in it amongst us as scientists as well, so that probably added to it taking so long, and then plus with Michael transferring out to a school in Virginia. But Michael was a visionary and a strong advocate for this particular program, and I appreciate the time and effort that he spent, you know, in getting all of us involved in it.

Emmett Chappelle

Environmental scientist and biochemist[?] Emmett W. Chappelle was born on October 24, 1925 in Phoenix, Arizona to Viola White Chappelle and Isom Chappelle. His family grew cotton and tended cows on a small farm at the edge of town. Chappelle was drafted into the U.S. Army, right after graduating from the Phoenix Union Colored High School in 1942. He was assigned to the Army Specialized Training Program, where he was able to take some engineering courses. Chappelle was later reassigned to the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division and served in Italy. After returning to the U.S., Chappelle went on to earn his A.A. degree from Phoenix College. With the help provided by the GI Bill of Rights, Chappelle was able to receive his B.S. degree in biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950.

Chappelle went on to serve as an instructor at the Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee from 1950 to 1953, where he was also able to conduct his own research. Chappelle’s work was noticed by the scientific community, and he accepted an offer to study at the University of Washington, where he received his M.S. degree in biology in 1954. Chappelle continued his graduate studies at Stanford University, though he did not complete a Ph.D. degree. In 1958 Chappelle joined the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Baltimore, where his research aided in the creation of a safe oxygen supply for astronauts. He went on to work for Hazelton Laboratories in 1963. In 1966, Chappelle joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Chappelle’s research has focused in the area of luminescence, which is light without heat. He has been involved in a number of projects, including the Viking space craft. Chappelle used chemicals from fireflies as well as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to develop a method of detecting life on Mars. He used this research in bioluminescence, light produced by living organisms, to detect bacteria in water, as well as in improving environmental management.

Chappelle retired from NASA in 2001. He received fourteen U.S. patents, produced more than thirty-five peer-reviewed scientific or technical publications, nearly fifty conference papers, and co-authored or edited numerous publications. Chappelle has been honored as one of the top 100 African American scientist and engineers of the 20th century. He received an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA for his work. Chappelle was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. He lived with his daughter and son-in-law in Baltimore.

Chappelle passed away on October 14, 2019.

Emmett W. Chappelle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 30, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.234

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/30/2012

Last Name

Chappelle

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widowed

Middle Name

W.

Schools

Wilson Ward Elementary

George Washington Carver High School

University of California, Berkeley

University of Washington

Stanford University

Phoenix College

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Emmett

Birth City, State, Country

Phoenix

HM ID

CHA10

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Arizona

Favorite Vacation Destination

Assateague, Maryland

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Maryland

Birth Date

10/24/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Baltimore

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

10/14/2019

Short Description

Environmental scientist and biochemist Emmett Chappelle (1925 - 2019) was honored as one of the top 100 African American scientist and engineers of the 20th century for the many impacts of his research in bioluminescence, light produced by living organisms.

Employment

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center

Hazelton Laboratories

RIAS Martin M.

Johns Hopkins University

United States Army

Meharry Medical College

Stanford University

Research Institute for Advanced Studies

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:10010,41:11000,53:12430,68:13310,77:14850,93:15400,99:16778,119:17090,124:25021,179:25930,190:45960,292:46680,303:51540,355:51896,360:52341,366:57290,424:58486,439:59590,454:60418,465:61890,482:63546,506:65018,523:68422,579:68790,584:72027,595:76185,659:102967,861:103849,879:110023,1044:110275,1049:112291,1080:112543,1089:112921,1096:121201,1154:121817,1164:127642,1234:128410,1245:129082,1256:147348,1414:148296,1440:149165,1453:153788,1525:154158,1531:156970,1569:167590,1628:170410,1634:170810,1639:204768,1772:209553,1833:210336,1842:210945,1897:217770,1929:218561,1938:234168,2090:243950,2122:244186,2127:274871,2323:276345,2353:279684,2375:280098,2382:280719,2392:281409,2406:290375,2489:292500,2511:295380,2545$0,0:2796,34:5798,45:6410,56:6682,61:7430,74:7838,81:14162,170:14866,178:18900,207:19140,212:20460,251:35100,393:38858,411:40198,423:51670,487:55782,529:57594,551:58039,557:59730,592:80950,763:82700,800:83260,806:83820,816:84590,829:85150,838:87950,909:88580,920:89350,934:89980,944:90400,952:90680,961:100939,1023:101596,1035:102253,1052:103202,1066:104151,1075:104735,1084:112889,1130:124037,1178:125109,1196:125377,1201:126382,1239:127454,1258:127722,1263:128258,1276:131062,1288:133171,1318:133726,1326:134281,1332:135864,1370:140838,1414:144374,1499:150344,1542:151658,1558:152388,1569:154943,1631:156038,1654:157279,1674:157571,1679:164214,1805:165309,1836:180840,1912:183348,1929:196804,1979:197260,1986:197640,1992:197944,1997:205885,2068:206145,2074:206860,2091:207120,2097:207640,2107:209655,2159:218270,2208:218598,2213:220715,2228:221395,2238:226300,2251:230980,2262:234700,2281:243761,2317:244585,2326:257370,2399:257955,2410:258475,2420:258800,2427:260230,2454:265994,2533:273390,2567:273690,2572:275746,2580:277042,2601:280606,2640:286070,2659:286961,2671:287852,2682:294878,2726:298126,2749:324286,2877:324958,2887:326218,2905:326890,2915:335762,3009:336234,3018:340244,3042:340564,3048:367710,3156:368190,3162:370626,3175:385593,3272:385949,3277:389082,3297:411940,3399:425789,3470:431626,3500:432282,3509:433266,3524:433676,3530:446286,3606:446801,3612:447522,3633:457460,3692
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Emmett Chappelle slates the interview and shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his mother's growing up in Montgomery, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Emmett Chappelle talks about how his father moved the family to Arizona

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his parents and the similarities between him and his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his siblings and shares his childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Emmett Chappelle remembers some of the sights, sounds, and smells from his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his childhood schools

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Emmett Chappelle talks about how his interest in science developed

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Emmett Chappelle talks about living in the desert as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Emmett Chappelle talks about the radio and newspapers of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his high school teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his speech impediment

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience in the U.S. Army during World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience in Italy during World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience at Phoenix College

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his wife and why he changed his major to biochemistry

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Emmett Chappelle talks about teaching at Meharry Medical College

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience at the University of Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Emmett Chappelle discusses his research at Stanford University and the University of Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his research at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience as an astrochemist at Hazelton Laboratories and his extraterrestrial research

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Emmett Chappelle discusses his discoveries in bioluminescence

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his research at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Johns Hopkins University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Emmett Chappelle discusses his research in fluorescents as well as his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Emmett Chappelle discusses his hopes for the African American community and talks about his family

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Emmett Chappelle talks about his students and his military awards

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Emmett Chappelle tells the story of how he learned how to swim

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Emmett Chappelle describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

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DATitle
Emmett Chappelle talks about his experience as an astrochemist at Hazelton Laboratories and his extraterrestrial research
Emmett Chappelle discusses his discoveries in bioluminescence
Transcript
Okay, now, from '63' [1963] to 1966, you worked as a biochemist for Hazelton Laboratories in Falls Church [Virginia]. What project were you working on there?$$I was developing a system for determining if there was life on other planets.$$Okay. Now, so you were there for a fairly long time working on this, right?$$Um-hum.$$Okay, from what I have here, they would call you an exobiologist, right?$$(No audible response).$$Someone who is engaged in the search for extraterrestrial life and the effects of extraterrestrial surroundings on living organisms.$$Um-hum.$$Okay, so at this point, you become an astrochemist, right. So how do--$$(Laughter).$$--you like that title (laughter)?$$I never considered myself as an astrochemist, even though that was the title they put on me. I was always, considered myself a biochemist.$$Okay, now, did you, if you told somebody you were looking for, you were trying to determine if there was extraterrestrial life, what kind of conversations would you have with people? I mean would they think it was like something that's impossible or what did people think then?$$Well, they wouldn't know what to think. I'm still not sure whether or not there's life on other planets.$$Do you think it's likely?$$I think it's likely. It's not life as we know it here on earth. But I think it's likely that there's, there are organisms up there that reproduce.$$And so you're saying that there are definitely organisms in space that we produce here?$$What?$$You're saying there're organisms in space right now that we produce here in, on earth?$$Well, I'm saying that there's most likely life out there that will reproduce in their own environment, which is (unclear) a criterion of life, the ability to reproduce.$$Okay, now, the target of your design, the instruments that you were designing was the Viking I Mission [the first successful NASA spacecraft to Mars] which occurred in 1975, right?$$That was supposed to be the vehicle on which my experiment would be flown, Viking.$$All right, so was it? I mean did you have experiments--$$It never flew.$$It never flew. Okay. All right. What happened? Why didn't it fly?$$That's a good question. They decided that the experiment which I designed was too specific, that it would call for life, to be too close to life here on earth, and that most likely, it wouldn't work.$$Or it wouldn't detect something that might be close to life on earth, but not quite--$$Um-hum.$$Okay. Okay, so, but Viking did, Viking flew, but your instrumentation didn't go?$$Right.$Okay, all right. All right, now, also, now, working on this project, you became interested in bioluminescence, right?$$(No audible response).$$And tell us how that took place. What is bioluminescence, and what happened during the project to get you interested in it?$$You've seen a fire fly, haven't you?$$Yes, sir.$$Well, that's bioluminescence. You can, you can take those fire flies and grind them up and extract the enzyme, mix it with Adenosine Triphosphate and get light.$$Now, this I kind of a code method of producing light, right? I mean using something that's not, you know, on fire or--$$Um-hum.$$--something without a spark?$$You could call it that.$$Yeah, so is there any heat produced from this light?$$No measurable heat.$$Okay, so are you the first then--I read that you were the first person to discover the chemical composition of bioluminescence, right?$$Yes.$$Okay, all right, so, and that's why you're in the Inventors Hall of Fame, is that true, because of this?$$Yes.$$Okay, and so, how was, how long did it take you to, you know, come up with the chemical composition of bioluminescence and--$$It took years.$$So, when, I mean how many years, I mean approximately how many years did it take to do that?$$What?$$Approximately, how many years did it take you to discover this?$$Approximately three.$$Three years, okay. All right, that's not a very long time. But, so did you--now, as a biochemist, I didn't ask you this before, but I guess this is a good time--now is as good a time as any. What's the day-to-day activities of a biochemist working on the projects that you were working on? I mean how soon do you get to the laboratory, and how many breaks do you get, and--$$(Laughter).$$(Laughter) Is it a short work week or do you have time to play cards or do you, I mean what is the--or do you have to work real hard or what? What is it like?$$Oh, a biochemist is a person who investigates the chemistry of living organisms.$$Okay, well, I was asking about your routine. What do you do?$$(Laughter) What do you mean by my routine?$$Well, what you do, you know, every day after you get up and get dressed and ready to go to work, what do you do at work?$$Well, you go into your laboratory and carry out experiments, hopefully, designed to answer questions as to, as to what are the chemical reactions involved in carrying out a certain biological reaction.$$Okay, typically, would you have a number of assistants or an assistant, or did you have to do everything by yourself or what?$$Usually, you have an assistant.$$Okay, so with this kind of investigation on the properties of bioluminescence, did you utilize electronic measurement devices as well as--$$Yes. You have to use electronic devices to measure the light.$$Okay, can you give us any more detail or--(laughter) are we out of luck (laughter)?$$(Laughter). (Unclear)$$Okay.$$You start out with the fire fly which you have to obtain by way. Either you catch it yourself or you pay the little kids to run around catching them for you. Then you bring them into the lab. You chop off their tails, grind them up and get a solution out of these ground-up tails which contains the enzyme sulforates (ph.) (unclear) and the cofactor Luciferin. You add Adenosine Triphosphate to that mixture and you get light. Adenosine Triphosphate is usually called ATP, which is found in all living organisms. And we were able to use that reaction to, to measure the bacteria in infected urine samples and some of the reaction mixture to the urine sample and measure the amount of light we get.$$Okay, so, well, we're gonna pause here, and then we'll pick up again.$$Okay.$$'Cause I understand like what, yeah.

John Watson

Biochemist and biochemistry professor John A. Watson was born on May 21, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, the first of eight children. His mother, Catherine P. Berkley-Watson, was a homemaker and his father Hosea Watson, worked as a U.S. Postal Service supervisor. Watson grew up in Chicago’s south side, attending Oakland Public Elementary School and graduating from Parker High School in 1957. After studying at the University of Illinois Navy Pier, he was hired by the American Institute of Baking, where he worked as a research assistant in nutrition research. It was there that his interest in biochemical studies truly crystallized. Watson returned to college to receive his B.A. degree in biology with an option in biochemistry from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1964. After receiving a pre-doctoral USPH Fellowship from the University of Illinois, Chicago Medical Center, Watson earned his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1967. With a post-Doctoral USPH Fellowship, Watson continued his two-year postdoctoral training at Brandeis University.

In 1969, Watson was hired by the University of California, San Francisco as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Medical school Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. Watson’s research focused on the regulation of metabolic pathways, particularly on the regulation of cholesterol and isopentenoid biosynthesis. He demonstrated that the apparent lack of control of cholesterol synthesis is not a marker for cancer cells, that essential non-sterol isopentenoid synthesis is a post-transcriptionally regulated process, and that excess mevalonic acid production in fruit fly cells is shunted through a novel degradation pathway. Watson became a full Professor of Biochemistry in 1984 and Professor Emeritus of the University of California, San Francisco in 2001.

Watson holds memberships in numerous renowned professional societies, including the American Association of Oil Chemists, the National Institute of Science, and the American Heart Association. He is also a founding member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Blacks in Biomedical Sciences. Winner of the 1985 Henry McBay Outstanding Teacher Award from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and the 1994 Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Watson has been recognized for his work as a research scientist as well as an educator.

John Watson is married to Valerie M. Watson, and they are the parents of four adult children: Lisa, Susan, Katherine, and John.

John Watson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 7, 2011.

Accession Number

A2011.004

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/7/2011

Last Name

Watson

Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

A.

Schools

University of Illinois College of Medicine

Illinois Institute of Technology

University of Illinois at Chicago

Parker High School

North Kenwood/Oakland Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WAT12

Favorite Season

Mid-May, Mid-June

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Zihuatanejo, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

5/21/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Spicy Food

Short Description

Biochemistry professor and biochemist John Watson (1940 - ) researched the regulation of cholesterol and other sterols in metabolic pathways as a professor at the University of California, San Francisco for more than thirty years.

Employment

University of California, San Francisco

Brandeis University

American Institue Banking

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Lavender, Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:648,4:2592,55:3240,64:3564,69:9870,98:10266,106:10596,112:13025,125:13700,137:20900,328:22325,363:23525,383:29748,436:30113,442:31646,469:32960,518:36391,576:36683,581:37632,598:38070,605:38800,616:39749,637:40041,642:40333,647:45570,686:45930,699:46890,721:47550,737:52963,810:61558,927:68974,1110:75756,1177:77772,1223:78492,1238:79284,1252:80148,1266:80940,1279:81372,1288:82380,1308:83100,1326:85476,1374:86196,1384:86844,1394:104318,1677:107342,1759:114038,1863:114326,1868:114902,1875:115622,1887:122080,1930:125776,2006:126480,2019:130088,2120:133785,2137:134495,2148:136948,2178:137875,2198:138493,2205:140020,2214$0,0:12222,80:12780,87:17032,117:17772,130:27127,221:27676,232:28103,240:28713,254:30132,262:30376,267:30620,272:31108,282:32328,305:32572,310:33487,329:33914,337:34219,343:36950,370:37370,379:37850,388:43078,480:44170,513:47914,585:50878,646:51346,651:51736,657:52438,669:61115,766:66466,839:71220,852:71760,866:72192,880:72516,888:72948,898:73434,910:74190,926:74406,931:79524,1016:80338,1029:80634,1034:81152,1043:82188,1065:82632,1073:82928,1078:86240,1107:91024,1147:91492,1154:91804,1160:108550,1258:119460,1271:121682,1292:122591,1304:125270,1309:127600,1314:129910,1353:130218,1358:134610,1383:135230,1389:136098,1398:138880,1415:139256,1420:140690,1425:142946,1453:146535,1477:151872,1545:152176,1550:152784,1561:153316,1574:156204,1633:156964,1646:157800,1659:165780,1731:166365,1742:168753,1757:169668,1785:171046,1806:172152,1836:173021,1847:173495,1854:180376,1943:180672,1948:182078,1967:182670,1977:183114,1984:185112,2016:185704,2025:186518,2040:188442,2066:190366,2099:198654,2211:198984,2217:203580,2254:204180,2260:206064,2269:206376,2274:208092,2300:208716,2309:210198,2335:212538,2379:212928,2385:214098,2406:214566,2414:214878,2419:217480,2424:218162,2436:218410,2441:218658,2446:219030,2453:219526,2462:220146,2474:220456,2480:222192,2526:223990,2557:224300,2563:224734,2571:231088,2652:231627,2661:231935,2666:233380,2675
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Watson's interview (part 1)

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of John Watson's interview (part 2)

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Watson shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Watson talks about his maternal great-grandfather, James Cornelius, part 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Watson discusses the Federal Writers' Project

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Watson discusses secrecy in his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Watson describes Centralia, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John Watson talks about his maternal great-grandfather, James Cornelius, part 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John Watson shares his mother's childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Watson shares his father's family history

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Watson talks about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Watson shares his father's childhood experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Watson discusses his father's involvement in World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Watson recalls de-facto segregation in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Watson describes growing up in the Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Watson talks about the black community in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Watson discusses his parents' personalities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Watson recalls his elementary school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Watson remembers exploring Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Watson describes his Gilbert chemistry set

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Watson recalls being robbed while selling the "Chicago Defender"

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Watson describes the atmosphere at Parker High School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Watson describes race relations in Chicago, Illinois during the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Watson recalls his experiences at Parker High School

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Watson recalls the science he observed on TV as a youth

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Watson recalls not having any mentors in science growing up

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Watson discusses his classmates at Parker High School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Watson discusses his college years at University of Illinois, Navy Pier

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Watson talks about working at the American Institute of Baking, part 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Watson talks about working at the American Institute of Baking, part 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Watson describes his experiences at Illinois Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Watson talks his studies at University of Illinois, Chicago Medical Center

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Watson describes glyceraldehyde metabolism, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Watson describes glyceraldehyde metabolism, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Watson talks about his postdoctoral work at Brandeis University

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Watson describes the changing nature of science

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Watson discusses his decision to work at the University of California, San Francisco

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Watson recalls the Civil Rights Movement and the push for minority faculty in educational institutions

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - John Watson describes his administrative duties at the University of California, San Francisco

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Watson talks about NADPH-dependent reductase

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Watson discusses cholesterol metabolism in hepatoma tumor cells

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Watson discusses the scientific process and its impact on society

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Watson describes his promotions at the University of California, San Francisco

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Watson describes isopentenoids, part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Watson describes isopentenoids, part 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Watson discusses halobacterium, part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Watson discusses halobacterium, part 2

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Watson discusses professional organizations for black chemists

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - John Watson describes the benefits of working with halobacterium

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - John Watson discusses retiring as professor emeritus from the University of California, San Francisco, part 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - John Watson discusses retiring as professor emeritus from the University of California, San Francisco, part 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - John Watson explains that there are very few risky decisions in science

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - John Watson talks about some of his mentees from the University of California, San Francisco

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - John Watson shares his mentoring strategy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - John Watson discusses his hopes and concerns for the black communtiy

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - John Watson reminisces over his life decisions

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - John Watson reflects on his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - John Watson discusses his hobbies and family

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - John Watson talks about his travels to Africa, part 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - John Watson recalls his initiation into the Orisa culture

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - John Watson talks about his travels to Africa, part 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - John Watson discusses the importance of oral history

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - John Watson discusses how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - John Watson shares advice for students interested in science, part 1

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - John Watson shares advice for students interested in science, part 2

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - John Watson describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

8$7

DATitle
John Watson recalls the science he observed on TV as a youth
John Watson discusses halobacterium, part 1
Transcript
And because when I was a kid, I don't know if you ever remember this program, "Mr. Cox". Mr. Cox came on every Sunday, and, around 6:00 o'clock, and this would--everybody, you know, it was one of those TV, those rare TV moments cause there weren't a whole lot of TV shows. And you'd sit up and look at Mr. Cox, and what I was always excited about, it wasn't so much "Mr. Cox", the program, but DuPont had commercials to come on. And their commercials, in those days commercials were ten minutes (laughter), fifteen minutes, they were long commercials. And I would sit and just wait for the new DuPont commercial each week because at that time they were into synthetics, and "Better Life Through Chemistry" and all of this excitement that would come. And I could just sit there and marvel. And, you know, this was, I was at, I was--$$There was a Wally Cox show.$$Wally Cox, yeah.$$Wally Cox, right. I remember Wally Cox, skinny guy with a bowtie--$$Yeah, yeah--$$--with big glasses.$$Yeah, Wally Cox, that's right.$$He was kind of like what you would call a nerd today.$$Um-hum, but the, DuPont were the people who were sponsoring it, "Better Life Through Chemistry" and plastics and they--I would just sit there and marvel at them taking all of this, putting chemistry to work and making all of these different kind of materials and what have you. And I just, I saw myself as synthetic chemist.$$Now, did Wally Cox play a scientist on the show at all?$$I don't think so.$$I know it was a comedy.$$Yeah, it was a comedy. No, I don't think he was a scientist. He was kind of a nerdy kind of guy, but--$$Right.$$--but it was, so.$$Yeah, I can't remember either what his profession was. But I remember the show, yeah.$$But it was, the commercials were what really drew me or I looked forward to on Sundays, was the commercial.$$Okay, now, did you like the Walt Disney specials on Science when you were growing up?$$I don't remember any Walt Disney specials on science at that time.$$Maybe he did it later on. I know in my generation they did that like "Futureland" and they would talk about--$$No, they had "Mr. Wizard." He was good.$$Don Herbert, right.$$And that was about, that's all I really remember.$Okay, all right.$$So the halobacterium is one of my ventures. You know, you're always looking and so halobacterium, when you fly into San Francisco [California], you see those salt ponds and they're red, and they're red because of special bacteria that grow in that very high salt concentration. And by high concentration, I'm talking about four molar [4M] salt. And when you consider that the salt separating the, circulating in our blood stream is .15 molar [0.15M], this is four molar [4M] salt. I mean it crystallizes. It's almost, I mean you give it a little wink, and it'll crystallize out on you. But there's a bug growing out there that gives rise to the color, what you see in those salt ponds. And that's, and they're called halobacterium. They're extreme organisms, and it's one of a--they're called archaebacteria as a family. And those are the bacteria that grow in these hot springs and Yellowstone and what have you 'cause they can withstand those temperatures. Well, they also can, they're extreme in a wide range of ways. And one of the ways is high salt for the halobacterium. Well, halobacterium is red because it's almost like, have rhodopsin, like in the eye. And it takes the sun, and then it converts it and develops into energy. The organism has as its, part of its cell wall nothing but isopentenoids. They don't have regular, straight-chain, fatty acids in their membrane. They have these branched isopentenoid compounds. And it's an advantage to having branched isopentenoid compounds. One, they are much more fluid because it's branch and it--if they're just flat, and straight-chained, they can get together and move. But now, you've put a kink in 'em, they can't, they become--they retain the fluidity. The other thing is that they're saturated so they're resistant to UV [ultraviolet] radiation, double bonds, don't get all changed and oxidized. They're just, they're stable. And two, they form what we call ether linkages, rather than ester linkages. And ether linkages takes a lot to break an ether linkage as opposed to an ester linkage. So like Crisco [an oil] has ester linkages, and when you wanna make--you just take some lye and boil it up and you break that bond, and you've got soap. You can't take the same kind of triglyceride-like molecule from Halobacterium, throw alcohol, alkali in there and boil it up and break that ether bond. It takes a much more strength, a much more active chemical reaction to break that bond. So they're resistant. That's why these organisms can grow under these extreme environments. And that's in all of the archaebacteria. So they can--that's why they are what they are.