Edmund Glaser, EE ’49

This alumni profile first appeared in the January 2013 CUAA Newsletter

Featured Alumnus: Edmund Glaser, EE’49


Edmund Glaser, ’49

Edmund Glaser, EE ’49, talks about his experience at The Cooper Union, and how it influenced his path to success in the field of computer microscopy.
2013 marks the 50th year since I became a joint inventor of computer microscopy. I graduated from Cooper as an electric engineer in 1949. The path to computer microscopy was unplanned and came slowly. My first ten years after Cooper involved working on Cold War defense engineering projects first on guided missiles, then on Air Force electronic countermeasures, then on communications systems and information theory. On the way, I moved to Johns Hopkins University, entered the field of artificial intelligence (AI), and undertook a PhD in electrical engineering. I gladly left Cold War projects to others in 1960 and became a recruit to brain neuroscience and the sensory physiology of hearing. My PhD came in 1960 followed by a postdoc in neurophysiology at Hopkins. That was followed by an appointment in Physiology at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine.
In 1963, I met Hendrik van der Loos, a neuroanatomist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The intellectual pathway to computer microscopy was then complete. Our collaboration lasted over 30 years. We jointly published what was to become a landmark paper in the IEEE Journal on Biomedical Engineering. Of course, it wasn’t a landmark then. We described a new kind of biological light microscope that we had built and coupled to an analog computer, thereby devising an integrated instrument that permitted the three dimensional computer based depiction and analysis of neurons in the brain. It opened a path to solving the problem of seeing and rapidly reconstructing their dendrites and axons. Anatomists as far back as Golgi and Ramon y Cajal had been doing that beautifully since the late 19th century. But none had done more than to publish meticulous drawings that illustrated how complex the brain was. The difference in 1963 was that brain scientists and computer scientists like Hendrik and I were then beginning to become interested in details of how the brain actually functioned and its similarities to a digital computer. Our computer microscope put neuroanatomy on the road to doing just that. The paper was published along with some nice compliments from foresighted observers.  But little attention was paid to it for the next 10 years. Nonetheless, we kept on working on it as did some other neuroanatomists.  Our own additional contributions and those of some others pushed it into the digital world.

Neuron image produced by Neurolucinda

Photo Above: A group of quantifiable neuron reconstructions from microscope images using Neurolucida.



When the IBM personal computer appeared, computer microscopy as it was by then called, became accepted internationally as the principal tool for computer based reconstruction of brain neurons. Our microscope system rapidly evolved, permitting investigators to control all aspects of their research while viewing microscope images. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by my computer trained son Jack and together in early 1987 we formed the company Microbrightfield (MBF) to develop and promote the neuron tracing system now called Neurolucida to the international neuroscience community. Three dimensional brain mapping was its principal function. Jack, by the way, is the namesake of his grandfather who attended Cooper Union in the early years of the 20th century.  NIH and SBIR grant support enhanced our growth. MBF has since become preeminent in computer microscopy and installed more than 1000 versions of its microscope systems  in neuroscience laboratories throughout the world. More than 4000 publications have cited its use. MBF remains devoted to light microscopy in all its new specializations including confocal and fluorescence microscopy and stereology. MBF’s website is http://www.mbfbioscience.com. Besides computer microscopy, I have enjoyed the gratifications of doing experimental research in auditory neurophysiology. I published a book with Daniel Ruchkin entitled The Principals of Neurobiological Signal Analysis, wrote numerous neuroscience publications and was awarded a Fogarty Senior International Fellowship.

I am now retired as an Emeritus Professor of Physiology and reside in Baltimore. I enjoy spending my winters in Mexico City where I have a guest appointment at the Instituto de Biomedicas at UNAM  and teach graduate students how to translate their Spanish language PhD theses into scientific English for publication.