Alphonse Chapanis, 85, psychologist

October 10, 2002|By Dave Gordon | Dave Gordon,SUN STAFF

Alphonse Chapanis, a psychology professor at the Johns Hopkins University for 35 years and a leader in the field of ergonomics, died Friday at Sinai Hospital of complications from knee surgery. The Towson resident was 85.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Dr. Chapanis graduated at age 15 from Bridgeport High School and enrolled at the University of Connecticut. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology there in 1937, and his doctorate in 1943 from Yale University, where he was a member of the swim team. He was also a mountain climber.

He served as an aviation psychologist during World War II, and helped teach pilots new techniques in night attacks against Japanese planes.

He left the service as a captain in 1946, and joined Johns Hopkins' Systems Research Field Laboratory at Jamestown, R.I. He moved to Baltimore in 1947, becoming an assistant professor of psychology on the Hopkins faculty. He was named an associate professor in 1949, and professor in 1963.

Dr. Chapanis wrote more than 170 articles on general experimental psychology, statistics and research design, and human engineering, and delivered more than 200 lectures at scientific and professional meetings in Canada, Europe, Israel, Asia and Australia.

Stewart Hulse, retired professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins, knew Dr. Chapanis for more than 40 years. "He was the founding father of human factors, which is now called ergonomics. He wrote the first textbook on the topic," Dr. Hulse said.

"The field deals with the concern about fitting machines so they could be more efficiently run by a person. An airplane cockpit, for example, is laid out for a human's ability to reach the switches, see the controls and use the controls easier," Dr. Hulse said. "Recently he was developing ways to communicate more effectively with video conferencing, and looking into the problems associated with that. It was a mix of ergonomics and engineering design."

Dr. Chapanis won numerous professional awards, and after his 1982 retirement the university's Human Factors and Ergonomics Society renamed its award for best student paper for him. The Alphonse Chapanis Award is given to the presenter of the best student paper at the society's annual meeting.

He was named emeritus professor at Hopkins, and continued his research until the end of his life. His last paper was published in August, in Perceptive and Motor Skills journal.

Services were private.

He is survived by his longtime companion and wife of 11 months, the former Vivian Burmeister Woodward; a son, Roger Chapanis of Seattle; a daughter, Dr. Linda Chapanis Fox of Honolulu; four stepchildren, Clayton Woodward of Reisterstown, Leslie Hansen of San Francisco, Dr. Gregory Woodward of Ithaca, N.Y., and Bradford Woodward of Severna Park; and seven grandchildren.

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