Skip to Main Content


A digital treasure trove

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Spring


James D. Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of cell biology, knew that he had a piece of history in his closet: lantern slides made by the pioneering cell biologist George E. Palade, M.D., and colleagues. Those images of cells seen through the electron microscope had laid the groundwork for Palade’s 1974 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. “Palade and his people really formulated, invented and provided the information that started the field of cell biology in the 1940s,” said Jamieson, who did his doctoral work at Rockefeller University with Palade and came with him to Yale.

Jamieson knew that his mentor, who was at Yale from 1973 until 1990, wanted the images to be available to students and scientists around the world. And so Jamieson cleaned the 3.25- by 4-inch glass slides, which Palade left at Yale. Jamieson then digitally scanned 191 slides. Arthur R. Belanger, M.S., project manager of academic media and technology, indexed the slides and placed them on the website of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library.

The Palade slides are among several digitized collections now available on the website. Other collections include engravings of historic figures and oil portraits of Chinese patients with tumors and other deformities from the mid19th century. The digital collection will expand, said Daniel M. Dollar, M.L.S., associate director of collection development. Palade’s slides helped biologists to relate what they were learning about cell morphology through the electron microscope with what was being discovered about cellular biochemistry through cell fractionation, the process of separating a cell into its distinct parts with a centrifuge.

This holistic understanding of cell function and structure provides the foundation for contemporary understanding of disease processes, because, Jamieson said, “you need to know what’s going on in the normal cell before you begin to figure out what’s going on in the diseased cell.”

The Medical Digital Library can be accessed at An exhibit by the Yale Medical Historical Library charting the life of pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, M.D., is now available online at