Chargaff was born in Czernowitz, Bukowina, Austria. From 1923-1928, Chargaff studied chemistry in Vienna, then two years in Yale. From 1930 on he worked at the University of Berlin, until he switched to the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1933. In 1935 he emigrated to New York. Chargaff became professor at the Columbia University.
Chargaff's best known achievement was to show that in DNA the number of guanine units equals the number of cytosine units and the number of adenine units equals the number of thymine units. This strongly hinted towards the base pair makeup of the DNA.