Chemla studied at Paris Diderot University and the École normale supérieure de jeunes filles, earning an agrégation in mathematics in 1978 and a diploma of advanced studies in 1979.
Her research interests include Chinese mathematics, 19th century French geometry, and the theory of the history of mathematics. She is also a senior fellow at the New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. At this time, her work was in pure mathematics.
Returning to France, she earned her Doctor of Philosophy in the history of mathematics from Paris 13 University in 1982, and began working for National Center for Scientific Research at that time.
With Guo Shuchun, Kemla published in 2004 a critical edition and translation into French of The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Artist Chemla was an invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1998.
In 2013–2014 she was the holder of the Sarton Chair of History of Science at Ghent University.
German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina]
She became a member of the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2004, of the International Academy of the History of Science in 2005, and of the Academia Europaea in 2013.