Bowman, an expert in inherited blood diseases and population genetics, was the first tenured African-American professor in the University of Chicago's biological sciences division. He died of renal cancer Sept. 28.
Michelle Obama was in her native Chicago only three days earlier for Monday's funeral of Maggie Daley, the city's former first lady.
The memorial service for Bowman was held Thursday morning at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. Other scheduled events later in the day to honor Bowman included a reception at Ida Noyes Hall and a remembrance event at the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine.
The first lady stayed for the memorial, then returned to Washington, said her spokeswoman Semonti Stephens.
Thursday evening, the first lady joined the president and their daughters at the ceremony lighting the National Christmas Tree near the White House.