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NIDDK Scientist Emeritus Elliot Charney Dies

By Dr. William A. Eaton

Dr. Elliot Charney, scientist emeritus in NIDDK's Laboratory of Chemical Physics and former chief of the spectroscopy and structure section, died Mar. 25 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 74.

Dr. Elliot Charney

Charney was an international authority on optical spectroscopy and the dynamics of biological macromolecules. He made major contributions to the theory and application of linear dichroism and optical activity measurements. He developed the "diene rule," one of the first theoretically based relations between optical activity and molecular conformation. His book, Molecular Basis of Optical Activity, published in 1979, remains the authoritative work on the subject.

Charney was a pioneer in developing transient linear dichroism as a surprisingly powerful tool for investigating the structure and dynamics of biopolymers. This experiment is more challenging than circular dichroism because the molecules in solution must align to produce linear dichroism, the difference in absorption of light linearly polarized in mutually perpendicular directions. Charney used electric field pulses to align molecules, obtaining structural information from the sign and magnitude of the linear dichroism, and dynamic information from the decay of the dichroism when the electric field is removed.

In a series of experimental and theoretical papers in the 1970's and 1980's, Charney showed how the ion atmosphere around charged polymers such as RNA and DNA influenced their orientation by the electric field. The availability of molecular biological methods for preparing specific nucleic acids allowed Charney to determine several physical properties of DNA that have important functional consequences. These properties included the sequence-dependent flexibilities of B-form DNA, the consistency between crystal and solution structures of Z-form DNA, and the characterization of the persistence length of A-form DNA. Protein-DNA complexes also proved accessible to structural analysis by electric dichroism. In collaboration with molecular biologists, Charney characterized the packing of nucleosomes into chromatin fibers, an important level of organization of DNA in the cell nucleus.

Born in New York City, Charney graduated from the City College of New York in 1942. At age 20, he worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University. He was an active participant in the formation of the Federation of American Scientists and also started the Queens, N.Y., chapter of the World Federalist Organization. In the early 1950's, he wrote the first volume of the history of the Manhattan Project for the Atomic Energy Commission. Charney earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University in 1956. The same year he joined NIH, where he remained until his retirement in 1990. Charney moved to Hartland, Vt., in 1992 and was appointed visiting scholar in the chemistry department at Dartmouth College. He continued his active involvement in science and government issues and conserved his 50 acres of field and woods through the Vermont Land Trust. He also created a scholarship fund in his name at the City College of New York.

Sketch of Charney by his wife, Gloria

Elliot Charney will be remembered as an outstanding scientist and an extremely warm person who was a constant source of inspiration to his colleagues and friends both personally and professionally. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Gloria Kamen Charney, three daughters, a brother, and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on June 22 at 3:30 p.m. in the Chapel of the Cloister, Bldg. 60.

NIH Mourns Loss of Christine Campbell

By Jan Ehrman

The NIH community was saddened by the recent passing of Christine M. Campbell of the fire prevention section, Division of Public Safety. Campbell, 28, died Apr. 30 as a result of complications from a bone marrow transplant. She was being treated for Hodgkin's disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Campbell was a fire prevention engineer whose office was in Bldg. 15G2, off Cedar Ln. She began working with the fire prevention section in June 1991, immediately after graduating from the University of Maryland. Her colleagues recalled her many attributes, including her enthusiastic spirit.

"Christine was a very friendly, outgoing individual. She had a warm heart. Anything she could do for you, she would," said longtime friend and coworker Charlie Barrett.

J.P. McCabe, her supervisor, echoed those sentiments, adding, "Christine was highly dependable. Even throughout all her treatments she came to work as often as possible. In fact, she would often stop at the doctor's office for radiation therapy early Friday morning, then head on to work. Or she would get chemo on Friday, and be back in to work on Monday -- all this, traveling from her home in Glen Burnie. That's the type of person Christine was. She loved the challenge of the job."

Campbell was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 1995. Her colleagues recall that, following the diagnosis, she traveled to Delaware where during a grueling 8-hour stint she took her professional engineering licensing exam, passing it the first time.

Among her many other accomplishments, Campbell and her coworkers received an NIH Merit Award in 1996.

She is survived by her parents and her brother and sister.

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