Contact: Kara Villamil, or Mona S. Rowe


DALLAS -- Chemists from around the world will gather today and tomorrow to salute Alfred P. Wolf, a father of an important field at the junction of medicine and chemistry, on his 75th birthday.

Wolf, a senior chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, is being recognized for nearly 50 years of pioneering contributions, in a two-day symposium at the American Chemical Society meeting here.

Both Wolf's own achievements in the field of organic radiochemistry, and subsequent accomplishments by others that his work helped make possible, will be discussed.

"Al's work laid the foundation for many of the nuclear medicine and medical imaging procedures performed in the world today, which help save thousands of lives each year and expand our knowledge of our brains and our bodies," said his colleague and symposium co-chair Joanna Fowler of BNL. "Though he works mainly with elements that are short-lived, his impact on humankind will last forever."

Among the speakers are Fowler and her colleagues from BNL, who have used Wolf's discoveries as the basis for more than two decades of studying brain phenomena from addiction to aging. In 1976, Wolf, Fowler and their colleagues developed a form of glucose that is now used in hospitals worldwide to make images of brain function and to diagnose cancer and heart disease using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Wolf's career of contributions mainly center around the synthesis of molecules that contain both radioactive and non-radioactive elements. Such compounds have found a wide variety of uses, from diagnosing disease to tracking the movement of air in the atmosphere. They have also helped in the study of basic chemical processes.

The short-lived radioactive elements, such as carbon-11 and fluorine-18, must be made in a small particle accelerator known as a cyclotron, then swiftly attached to the organic molecules before their usefulness fades adding a "beat the clock" urgency to already intricate chemical
synthesis processes.

After the radioactive elements have been attached to an organic molecule, the result is called a radiotracer a chemical beacon that sends a faint but detectable signal. If a radiotracer is injected into the body, that signal can be picked up by medical imaging equipment to track, for example, brain activity or the location and movement of a drug such as cocaine through the body.

A Founding Father

Alfred Wolf began his career as a physical organic chemist in 1951, after his education had been interrupted by World War II, when he spent some time working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.

He joined Brookhaven's Chemistry Department in 1951, four years after BNL's establishment as a multi-disciplinary institution dedicated to peaceful uses of the atom.

His early studies involved research on the chemical fate of carbon atoms using the BNL research reactor, the 60" cyclotron and the Cosmotron, one of BNL's early accelerators, or "atom smashers." His investigations of the factors controlling the chemistry of "hot," or radioactive, atoms such as carbon-11 provided the knowledge required to control the chemistry occurring in accelerator targets.

By the mid-1960's, his fundamental studies had laid the groundwork for the synthesis of small, radiolabeled compounds in pure form for organic synthesis and basic chemistry studies. This grew into a new interest in developing radiotracers labeled with short-lived positron emitting isotopes like carbon-11 so that the tracer method could be applied to visualize biochemical transformations in living systems.

Said Fowler, "Al approached and solved problems in this area with his typical rigorous style, measuring important characteristics of the hot atoms and developing the targets that came to be used in the cyclotron to produce the large quantities of carbon-11 and fluorine-18 labeled precursors. He also developed the methods that we now use routinely to make the radiotracers used in PET imaging today. Indeed, most of the cyclotron-PET centers around the world have one or more individuals who, to their great advantage, have spent part of their careers at Brookhaven working with Al Wolf."

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Wolf was given ACS's Nuclear Chemistry Award in 1970, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine's de Hevesy Nuclear Medicine Pioneer Award in 1991. In 1996, he was honored by the Institute for Clinical PET with its Distinguished Scientist Award. He has published over 325 papers on basic and applied research in chemistry and nuclear medicine.

Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Brookhaven is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.

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