Who Was Emmett Chappelle?

In 2007, at the age of 82, Chappelle was added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work on bioluminescence.

Emmett Chappelle was a scientist who was born in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up in a time when schools were segregated. This meant that he attended an all-Black high school.

In 1966, he began working for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). He made many important discoveries there. One discovery that made him famous involves bioluminescence.

What is bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is an organism’s ability to produce and give off light. Have you seen fireflies light up at night? That’s an example of bioluminescence.

Emmett Chappelle did experiments with the chemicals that make fireflies glow.

How did Chappelle use bioluminescence?

Chappelle used his knowledge of bioluminescence to invent a test. His test could tell whether a substance contained any tiny living things, or bacteria. If it did, it lit up like a firefly.  Scientists use Chappelle’s test to detect bacteria in food and drinking water. They may also be to able use it to detect bacteria in outer space.

What else did Chappelle invent?

Chappelle also found a way for astronauts to get oxygen in space. He realized they could send plants on the spacecraft with astronauts. Those plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Chappelle’s work led to 14 United States patents. Patents are given to new discoveries and ideas.

An Inventor and a Mentor

Emmett Chappelle was not only a scientist and an inventor. He was also a mentor. He helped minority high school and college students. He showed them his lab and helped them with their experiments.

What Do You Think? Why do you think Chappelle made a point to help minority high school and college students?

Photo Credit: (t)NASA Image Collection/Alamy Stock Photo, (b)Fer Gregory/Shutterstock