Martha Chase (Martha Cowles Chase)

Martha Chase

Martha Chase was born in 1927 in Cleveland, Ohio. She had only one sister, Ruth Chase. In 1950 she received her bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster and in 1964 her PhD from the University of Southern California. In 1952 Chase met the American bacteriophage expert Alfred Hershey at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory from the Carnegie Institution of Washington. This was where the well-known Hershey–Chase experiment was performed. The experiment helped to confirm that it was DNA, and not protein, that was the genetic material through which traits were inherited. They proved this by testing that the DNA, not the protein, of the bacteriophage T2 (a virus that infects bacteria) entered E coli upon infection. This result was contrary to prevailing scientific opinion at the time. In 1953 Martha Chase moved to a post at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and she later also worked at the University of Rochester. During the 1950s she returned to Cold Spring Harbor to take part in meetings of the Phage Group of biologists. She met and married fellow scientist Richard Epstein in California in the late 1950s, and changed her name to Martha C. Epstein. The marriage was brief and they divorced shortly after with no kids. A series of personal setbacks through the 1960s ended Chase’s career in science. She spent decades suffering from a form of dementia that robbed her of short-term memory. She died of pneumonia on August 8, 2003, at the age of 75.


  • November, 30, 1927
  • USA
  • Cleveland Heights, Ohio


  • August, 08, 2003
  • USA
  • Lorain, Ohio

Cause of Death

  • pneumonia

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