John E. Heuser, MD, explains the process of quick-freeze deep-etch electron microscopy.




Four decades ago, John E. Heuser, MD, professor of cell biology and physiology, wanted to find a way to peer through the murk inside the body and its cells and take clear pictures of key processes in action.

Heuser’s answer to the problem, a unique technique called quick-freeze deep-etch electron microscopy, has helped him answer many important scientific questions ever since. He also has worked to make it possible for other scientists around the world to put the process to use in their own laboratories.

Heuser has won wide appreciation for the artistic beauty often found in the images he produces. His micrographs are typically filled with otherworldly textures and patterns, magnificent micro-architectural structures, and the drama of fleeting but critical moments captured and frozen for eternity.


In recent years, Heuser’s scientific colleagues have recognized his broad contributions to cell and molecular biology by electing him to fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the National Academy of Sciences. The artistic merits of his research were recognized recently in an on-campus exhibition of his electron micrographs organized by colleagues Paul C. Bridgman, PhD, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and Krikor T. Dikranian, MD, PhD, associate professor of anatomy and of physical therapy.

The images are now permanently displayed on the third floor of the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, near the histology labs where medical students will have some of their first encounters with the cells and tissue structures seen in Heuser’s micrographs.

Frozen in Time

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