Sherwood Chang, 1940–2022

Sherwood ChangSherwood Chang, an organic chemist, died in Tacoma, Washington, on June 6, 2022, at the age of 81.

During his 30 years at NASA as a physical organic chemist, Chang was a leader in the evolution of the application of chemistry in the field of space science. His innovative and collaborative approach to science — uniting cosmochemistry, origin of life research, and molecular biology — helped create the then-new field of astrobiology. In recognition of his contributions, NASA dedicated an Exobiology Conference room in his honor in 2009.

Among many other honors, as a Principal Investigator for the Apollo program, Chang was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1976) for his contributions to geochemistry, cosmochemistry, and lunar and planetary science. While at NASA he served as Assistant Chief for Science and Technology Extraterrestrial Research (1983) and Chief of Exobiology (1985–1998). In 1999 he was elected a fellow by the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life (ISSOL).

Following his retirement from NASA, Chang became a farmer on a small ranch in the foothills of the Trinity Alps of northern California where he raised Certified Organic grass-fed beef, hay, and produce. On the ranch, he combined nineteenth-century infrastructure (hand-dug irrigation ditches and hand-crafted seasonal dams and flumes) with twenty-first-century technology (power from solar panels and inverters, communication via small-aperture satellites). After 16 years of farming, he took a second retirement, moving north to Tacoma, Washington.

Chang was unfailingly kind to strangers and friends alike, keeping strong many bonds of friendship lasting half a century. His dedicated encouragement, support, and inspiration nurtured and empowered the next generation of skilled and curious scientists, and he meaningfully enriched the lives of all who knew him.

— Portions of text courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News