Public Release: 

Philadelphian wins national organic chemistry award

American Chemical Society

Madeleine Joullie of Philadelphia will be honored August 20 by the world's largest scientific society for designing and constructing compounds useful in fields ranging from medicine to forensics. She will receive the 2002 Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in Boston.

Joullie, a synthetic organic chemist, joined the University of Pennsylvania's faculty as its first female instructor in 1953. Nearly 50 years later, now one of its most accomplished professors, she describes herself a pragmatic chemist, one who combines scientific approaches to understand how drugs work and how to improve them.

"Joullie is particularly distinguished for her pioneering, ongoing research with the didemnins," wrote a colleague who nominated her for the award. Didemnins are compounds isolated from tunicates, marine animals such as sea squirts, and which show anticancer properties. Several examples of her work in the field, "beautifully executed with surgical precision," have been described in textbooks, he added.

Such research is particularly challenging because of the complexity of the didemnins' structures. To turn a natural product into a candidate for cancer treatment, one must first understand how the various piece of the structure relate to its action. To that end, Joullie has not only created laboratory versions of didemnins as found in tunicates but also modified their structures to enhance their activity against tumors.

Her interests range widely. Among her other achievements is a simple, inexpensive compound that can make previously invisible fingerprints glow fluorescent. She and her research team have also attached fluorescent "tags" to compounds to track their path within cells and simple organisms.

Joullie, who was born in France, said she has been intrigued by science and particularly chemistry for as long as she can remember. "How did I get into this? I don't really know. There is no explaining love affairs, I guess..."

"I always thought, and still do, that chemistry is a problem-solving science -- and that no matter what the problem is, if you use the right scientific method, you will come up with an answer."

Joullie received her undergraduate degree from Simmons College in 1949 and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953. She is a member of the ACS divisions of organic chemistry, professional relations and chemical education.

The ACS Board of Directors established the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1984 to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry, including Senior Scholars, those over age 50. Cope was an organic chemist and former chairman of ACS. The award consists of a $5,000 prize and an unrestricted research grant of $40,000.

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