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Robert Emerson (scientist)

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Robert Emerson November 4, 1903 – February 4, 1959 was an American scientist noted for his discovery that plants have two distinct photosynthetic reaction centres


  • 1 Family
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Experimental results
  • 4 Death
  • 5 References


Emerson was born in 1903 in New York City, the son of Dr Haven Emerson, Health Commissioner of New York City, and Grace Parrish Emerson, the sister of Maxfield Parrish Emerson was the brother of John Haven Emerson the inventor of the iron lung

He married Claire Garrison, and they had three sons, and a daughter


Emerson received a master's degree in 1929 from Harvard, and received his doctorate from the University of Berlin working in the laboratory of Otto Warburg

Thomas Hunt Morgan invited him to join the Biology Division at the California Institute of Technology where he worked from 1930 to 1937, and again for a year in 1941 and 1945 From 1942 to 1945 he worked on producing rubber from the guayule shrub for the American Rubber Company

In 1947 he moved to the Botany Department of the University of Illinois, where he remained for the rest of his life

Experimental results

Emerson's first "important" result was the quantification of the ratio of chlorophyll molecules to oxygen molecules produced by photosynthesis Emerson and William Arnold found that "the yield per flash reached a maximum when just 1 out of 2500 chlorophylls absorbed a quantum"

Next, in 1939, Emerson demonstrated that between 8 and 12 quanta of light were needed to produce one molecule of oxygen These results were controversial, as they contradicted Warburg who reported 4, then 3, and finally 2 quanta This dispute was settled after the death of both men, and it is now agreed that Emerson was correct, and the accepted modern value is 8 – 10 quanta

In 1957, Emerson reported results that are now called the Emerson effect, the excess rate of photosynthesis after chloroplasts are simultaneously exposed to light of wavelength 670 nm red light, and 700 nm far red light

These results were later shown to be the first experimental demonstration that there are two photosynthetic reaction centres in plants


Emerson died in the crash of American Airlines Flight 320 in New York City


  1. ^ a b c d e Rabinowitch, Eugene 1961 Robert Emerson:A biographical Memoir PDF Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences p 22 Retrieved 15 December 2015 
  2. ^ a b Emerson, R "Yield of photosynthesis from simultaneous illumination with pairs of wavelengths" Science Vol 127 No 3305 1200 NEW YORK AVE, NW, WASHINGTON, DC 20005: AMER ASSOC ADVANCEMENT SCIENCE, 1958
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Cooper, David 1999 "Volume 7" In Garraty, John; Carnes, Mark American National Biography 1 ed New York City: Oxford University Press p 492 ISBN 0-19-512786-2 
  4. ^ a b Stryer, Lubert 1975 "Photosynthesis" Biochemsitry W H Freeman & Co p 462 ISBN 0-7167-0174-X 
  5. ^ Govindjee; Rabinowitch, Eugene 1969 Photosynthesis 1 ed New York City: John Wiley & Sons, Inc p 172 ISBN 0-471-70423-7 
  6. ^ Emerson, Robert; Lewis, Charlton 1940 "The Quantum Efficiency of Photosynthesis" Year Book Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC 38: 118–122 
  7. ^ Emerson, Robert; Lewis, Charlton 1941 "The Quantum Efficiency of Photosynthesis" Year Book Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC 40: 157–160 
  8. ^ Govindjee; Rabinowitch, Eugene 1969 Photosynthesis 1 ed New York City: John Wiley & Sons, Inc p 68 ISBN 0-471-70423-7 
  9. ^ Emerson, Robert 1957 "Dependence of yield of photosynthesis in long wave red on wavelength and intensity of supplementary light" Science 125: 746  |access-date= requires |url= help
  10. ^ "Emerson Enhancement Effect and Two Light Reactions in Photosynthesis" PDF Lifeillinoisedu Retrieved 2015-12-16 

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