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McCrone Research Institute's Vision for the Future

By Dr. Gary J. Laughlin, Ph.D.
Editorial from The Microscope, 50(2/3), 2002

This issue of The Microscope is dedicated to the memory and celebrates the life of Dr. Walter C. McCrone (1916-2002). Included in this volume of the journal is a special selection of remembrances from so many of his family, friends, colleagues, and students. It also celebrates the dream that he lived and practiced every day — to increase the use of the light microscope in the physical sciences through education, research, and dissemination of knowledge.

The microscopy teaching activities of Dr. McCrone started long before the McCrone Research Institute was formally incorporated as a not-for-profit research institute. Dr. McCrone obtained his first microscopy training at Cornell University, with Émile Monnin Chamot, and was shortly thereafter appointed a full instructor in chemical microscopy as a graduate student prior to obtaining his Ph.D. in 1941. After leaving Cornell for Chicago, he taught classes at the Armour Research Foundation (now the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute, or IITRI) from 1942-1956 with the most intensive courses first taught by him in 1952. The first McCrone Research Institute course taught in England, covering polarized light microscopy, was held in London, in 1960, the same year the Institute was incorporated.

The course and student totals from McCrone’s educational activities are impressive. As of January, 1, 2002, the cumulative for McCrone Research Institute (1942-2002) is 2,130 courses for 22,557 students. The year 2002, with an additional 54 courses and an additional 560 students expected, will bring the total to over 23,000 students! As a result of McCrone Research Institutes’s ongoing efforts to interest scientists in microscopy, these classes continue with more than 50 courses and 500 students per year.

In 1948, Dr. McCrone started the series of annual international conferences on microscopy now known as Inter/Micro. This meeting is held every year in Chicago and continues to be sponsored and hosted by McCrone. For a number of years, Dr. McCrone also used the meeting venue to convene his own personal Advisory Board, where top microscopists would meet to discuss McCrone activities.

Dr. McCrone invited the State Microscopical Society of Illinois (SMSI) into McCrone Research Institute during the 1960s, providing gratis clerical, secretarial and professional services in addition to facilities for the storage of its collections. SMSI continues to utilize McCrone’s lecture rooms and classrooms for its adult and young student groups, general meetings, and workshops. SMSI holds its annual meeting and auction at Inter/Micro and presents awards to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to microscopy.

The Microscope journal has been owned, edited and published by Dr. McCrone and Microscope Publications, a division of McCrone Research Institute, since he first acquired it in 1967. Microscope Publications and McCrone Research Institute also publish many of the books important for the light microscopist including the Monographs in the Microscope Series, Chamot and Mason’s famous Handbook of Chemical Microscopy, Winchell’s “Organic” and “Inorganic” handbooks on optical properties, Asbestos Identification, Fusion Methods, The Particle Atlas, and various others.

Continuing the tradition that started with Dr. McCrone’s first research projects (applying chemical microscopy to explosives at Cornell), McCrone conducts basic and applied research related to its mission of expanding particle analysis capabilities and using microscopical and microanalytical techniques to address problem areas in forensic, industrial, pharmaceutical, environmental and conservation sciences. This research is currently funded internally and by selected grants and contracts associated with a variety of academic institutions, government agencies and corporations.

Museum of Microscopy
Dr. McCrone established the McCrone Research Institute Museum of Microscopy in 1978. The collection includes libraries, microscopes and accessories, other equipment and furnishings of microscopists who made important contributions to microscopy. The museum presently includes items donated or purchased from the laboratories of Norman H. Hartshorne, W.M D. Bryant, Paul Kirk, John G. Delly, John Bunyan, Vladimir Sekara, Émile M. Chamot, Roger Loveland, James Nelson, Joseph Coles, Edwin Jelley, Alexander N. Winchell, Sy Bauer, Ludwig and Adelheid Kofler, Frank Karl, Francis Jones, Ray Allen, Clyde W. Mason, Walter C. McCrone and many others.

Cornell Chemical Microscopy
In the 1990s, Dr. McCrone made possible the full endowment of the Chamot Professorship at Cornell University where McCrone Research Institute personnel currently oversee and teach at the new Chamot Microscopy Facility. Light microscopy is now taught regularly in the curricula of the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Design and Environmental Analysis, Textiles and Apparel, and the Cornell Architectural Conservation Group.

The McCrone Research Institute was organized to fill a technical, scientific, and educational gap. The Institute, as Dr. McCrone’s vision for the future, continues to meet that need, with five full-time research professors, Lucy McCrone and a capable and dedicated administrative/clerical support staff.