In Memoriam: Edmund M. Glaser, PhD

Dr. Edmund Glaser devoted his career of more than four decades to the field of neuroscience. Most notably, in 1963, he co-invented computer microscopy, a pioneering method of quantifying the brain’s morphometry. This technology, for the first time, applied computer techniques to the neuroanatomical world, permitting scientists to precisely quantify the brain’s three-dimensional structure. It simplified time-consuming, inexact classical methodologies in an efficient and cost-effective method. By 1995, the year of Dr. Glaser’s retirement, computer microscopy had been adopted by thousands of neuroscience laboratories throughout the world.

Dr.Edmund GlaserDr. Glaser started his college education in his hometown, New York City, studying Electrical Engineering at The Cooper Union. In the midst of his college career, he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army during WWII. His duty took him to Nuremberg, where he was a sound recordist and photographer who documented the Medical War Trials of infamous Nazi physicians. After his military service, he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1949. After doing early project work in communications systems and guided missiles for the U.S. Air Force, he soon became attracted to the emerging fields of computing, information theory, and artificial intelligence. In 1952, he returned to his academic studies in engineering. He received a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1960 and then secured a postdoctoral fellowship in its Department of Physiology in the School of Medicine.

In 1963, Dr. Glaser teamed up with Dr. Hendrik Van der Loos, a neuroanatomist at Johns Hopkins, to study the complex morphology of the brain’s cerebral cortex. They encountered the shortcomings of the time’s tedious neuroanatomical techniques and noted the need to revamp the prevailing methods of analyzing neuron morphology and neuronal networks within the cerebral cortex. It was then that they formulated the design and the construction of the first computer microscope.

Computer microscopy at that time was based on the use of analog computer technology. Glaser and Van der Loos demonstrated the great improvements that could made in neuroanatomy by adapting computer technology, it showed the practical way to represent the brain’s structure in its intrinsic three-dimensional reality. In so doing, the quantification of neuroanatomy was wholly revolutionized. Tracing neuronal structures was reduced from hours to minutes and measurement precision was able to achieve fractional micron accuracy. What is more, large assemblies of neuronal networks could be examined in quantitative detail in three dimensions.

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