Joanna Fowler

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Joanna S. Fowler
Fields nuclear medicine
Institutions Brookhaven National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Stony Brook University
Alma mater University of South Florida
University of Colorado
Notable awards Garvan–Olin Medal (1998)
E. O. Lawrence Award (1998)
National Medal of Science (2008)
NAS Award in Chemical Sciences (2009)

Joanna S. Fowler is a Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. She served as Director of Brookhaven’s Radiotracer Chemistry, Instrumentation and Biological Imaging Program.[1] Fowler studied the effect of disease, drugs, and aging on the human brain and radiotracers in brain chemistry. She has received many awards for her pioneering work, including the National Medal of Science.

Life and education

Fowler received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Colorado in 1967 and did her postdoctoral work at the University of East Anglia in England and at Brookhaven. Fowler worked at Brookhaven from 1969 until her retirement in January 2014.[2]

She is an Adjunct Professor in the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook University. She is married to Frank Fowler, a Professor of Organic Chemistry at Stony Brook University.

Research and achievements

Fowler's research has led to fundamental new knowledge, important scientific tools and broad impact in the application of nuclear medicine to diagnostics and health. She has worked for much of her career developing radiotracers for brain imaging to understand the mechanisms underlying drug addiction. Most recently, she has been engaged in developing methods to understand the relationship between genes, brain chemistry and behavior.

In 1976, Fowler and her colleagues designed and synthesized a radioactively “tagged” form of sugar that is now used widely to study brain function and also to diagnose and plan treatment for cancer. She also developed another radiotracer, as these “tagged” molecules are called, that first showed that cocaine’s distribution in the human brain parallels its effects on behavior.

Fowler played a central role in the development of a fluorine-18-labeled glucose molecule (FDG) enabling human brain glucose metabolism to be measured noninvasively. This positron-emitting molecule, together with positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, has become a mainstay for brain-imaging studies in schizophrenia, aging and cancer.

Another of her major accomplishments was the development of the first radiotracers to map monoamine oxidase (MAO), a brain enzyme that regulates the levels of other nerve-cell communication chemicals and one of the two major enzymes involved in neurotransmitter regulation in the brain and peripheral organs. Using these radiotracers, she discovered that smokers have reduced levels of MAO in their brains and lungs. This may account for some of the behavioral and epidemiological features of smoking, such as the high rate of smoking in individuals with depression and drug addiction, two conditions involving poor nerve-cell communication, and has led to many studies on reduced MAO and smoking.

Awards and honors

Fowler's scientific excellence and achievements have been recognized by prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science, awarded in 2009 by President Obama.[3] In 2003, Fowler was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Her numerous other honors include:


  1. Koropsak, Jane. "Brookhaven Lab Grants Scientist Emeritus Status to Retired Chemist Joanna S. Fowler." BNL Newsroom. Brookhaven National Laboratory, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
  2. Greenberg, Diane. "Brookhaven Lab's Joanna Fowler Awarded National Medal of Science." BNL Newsroom. Brookhaven Science Associates LLC, 24 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
  3. Greenberg, Diane. "Brookhaven Lab's Joanna Fowler Awarded National Medal of Science." BNL Newsroom. Brookhaven Science Associates LLC, 24 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
  4. "Brookhaven Lab's Joanna Fowler Receives Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award". June 24, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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