Wellesley's Joanne Berger-Sweeney Honored for Her Medical Research by The HistoryMakers

For Immediate Release:
Feb. 23, 2010

Contact: Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass.—Calling her "one of five of the nation's leading medical scientists," The HistoryMakers organization honored Wellesley College Associate Dean Joanne E. Berger-Sweeney at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry this month.

Photo Credit: Toya Werner Martin
Wellesley's Joanne Berger-Sweeney: ScienceMaker

Berger-Sweeney, Wellesley's Allene Lummis Russell professor in neuroscience and professor of biological sciences, presented her research in a panel discussion at the event.

The HistoryMakers, a national nonprofit research and educational institution, is dedicated to educating the world about African American history and achievement. Its program, "The Value of Science: Improving the Quality of Life," featured Berger-Sweeney and four other top scientists.  The event attracted more than 600 participants including trustees of the Chicago science museum and The HistoryMakers.

"I spoke about my research regarding Rett Syndrome, an autistic-spectrum disorder," Berger-Sweeney said. "I work with a mouse model where we take the genetic mutations that cause the disease in humans and test mice to see how closely they resemble the human model. We are trying diet and nutrition as a way of mitigating the symptoms of the syndrome."

Berger-Sweeney and her fellow scientists also spent a day with inner-city middle school students at the museum.

"Each of us gave short talks and there were scientific demonstrations to engage their interest," said Berger-Sweeney. "Each class had a student videographer with a Flip camera who interviewed us about how we became scientists. The videos were shown at the end of the day to all of the students. They really got into seeing themselves in the videos and that was terrific."

Recognized internationally for her work on brain disorders affecting memory,

Berger-Sweeney's teaching is closely linked to her research. In her labs, Wellesley College students benefit from directly participating in that research.

A member of the Wellesley College Class of 1979, she majored in psychobiology, then earned a master's of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology at Johns Hopkins University. She has been a member of the Wellesley College faculty since 1991.

The HistoryMakers describes itself as "capturing American history one person at a time." Berger-Sweeney now becomes part of its ScienceMakers Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, which is creating a multi-media archive of video oral histories of African American scientists. The histories serve as a framework for public programs, educational materials, Web content and a YouTube oral history contest.

In addition to Berger-Sweeney, the other honored scientists were Edwin Cooper, Erich D. Jarvis, Roderic Pettigrew and Luther S. Williams. For more information, go to http://www.thehistorymakers.com/.