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About Us

About the Department

Our Department

The Department of Cell Biology was founded in the early 1970's by George E. Palade, who received the Nobel Prize in 1974 for fundamental discoveries that began to define the cell in mechanistic terms. In subsequent years, Palade's legacy has endured due to the many award-winning faculty based in the Department, which is also spread throughout the School of Medicine, the main University campus, and the West campus.

The department is currently headed by James Rothman, the Sterling Professor of Cell Biology, and recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Under his leadership the department has grown substantially and comprises a young, dynamic and intensely interactive group with a diverse array of research interests. Our faculty are committed to training the next generation of Cell Biologists and many of our postdoctoral and student alumni have gone on to successful careers in academia, biotech, and the pharmaceutical industry.

History of the Department

The Department of Cell Biology at Yale draws on a rich history rooted in the medical school's early forays into the fields of anatomy, microscopy and histology. In 1858, Rudolph Virchow articulated what became the accepted form of the cell theory, Omnis cellula e cellula ("every cell is derived from a [preexisting] cell"). He founded the medical discipline of cellular pathology, which posited that 'disturbances in cells' are the fundamental bases of human disease. Research in the department stems from this conceptual foundation. For an in depth description of the history of Cell Biology at Yale, read Thomas Lentz's "History of the Department of Cell Biology."

In 2008, James Rothman became the Fergus F. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Chair of Cell Biology. His research program investigates the molecular mechanisms and regulation of vesicular traffic and membrane fusion in cells. Rothman has received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2002, the 2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, and 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. In 2012, Rothman established the Nanobiology Institute on Yale's West Campus, comprised of faculty from the Department of Cell Biology and other Yale departments, which endeavors to discover the principles that unite living and synthetic materials at the nanoscale. James Rothman became the Sterling Professor of Cell Biology in 2017.

Cell Biologists

The cell is the fundamental unit of all life on earth. Cell Biology therefore defines the very center of all efforts to understand all aspects of biology and human disease.

Cell Biology seeks to understand a continuum that starts with elucidating the molecular basis of how cells are constructed, how the thousands of cell types accomplish their individual tasks, and finally how these different cells cooperate to form tissues, systems, and organisms.

Cell biologists thus represent a diverse group, conversant in and committed to a wide variety disciplines: from genetics to biochemistry, from immunology to neurobiology, from development to informatics, from genomics to clinical medicine. Cell biologists must also be clever, ready to develop and apply novel approaches to a limitless range of problems as they emerge.

We rarely do the same thing twice.

Cell Biology History Articles

By Thomas L. Lentz, MD, Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology