Digital Collections

Oral history interview with James U. Bowie

  • 1999-May-05
  • 1999-May-14
  • 1999-May-19

James U. Bowie was born in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1959; the youngest of four siblings. Bowie's father, E. J. Walter Bowie, was a doctor originally from England who met Bowie's Swiss mother, Gertrud Ülrich, while she was on summer vacation in England. The family eventually moved to Canada, where they lived for a while until Bowie's father began working at the Mayo Clinic, and then they moved to Minnesota. Bowie went through school with relative ease and regularly got into trouble until he traveled to Switzerland with his mother and decided to change his approach to life. He first discovered biology and proteins while working for one of his father's colleagues in a laboratory at the Mayo Clinic. From that point on he knew that he wanted to pursue Biology. Bowie received his BA from Carleton College in 1981 and credits one professor in particular with making molecular biology interesting. He was an avid skier in college and met his wife during his sophomore year. Bowie was accepted into medical school for the following year, but instead elected to defer for one year. During this period he worked as a lab technician; an experience that pushed him to decide against medical school. After a subsequent year of applications to graduate school programs, he matriculated into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his PhD in 1989. In 1989 Bowie accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he began learning crystallography in David S. Eisenberg's Lab. He and Eisenberg focused on analyzing the sequence and structure of proteins through computational biology and on the use of novel computer programming to predict protein structure. During this period Bowie also developed a specific interest in characterizing the structure, function, and regulation of cell membrane proteins, a field with widespread medical and pharmaceutical applications. Bowie was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1993. His major area of research there still centers on identifying the structure and function of key cell membrane proteins. Throughout his oral history Bowie explains how fortunate he has been to have had such an easy childhood and so many opportunities to succeed. He has received several grants, including a fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator award, a McCoy Award in Chemistry, and most notably a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history interview.

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