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For Immediate Release: May 26, 2010
Contact: Diana Kenney, Marine Biological Laboratory
508-289-7139; dkenney@mbl.edu

Shinya Inoué Honored by the the Government of Japan


Shinya Inoue

MBL Distinguished Scientist Shinya Inoué. Credit: Tom Kleindinst. Larger image.

Order of the Sacred Treasure

The Orders of the Sacred Treasure were established in 1888 by the Government of Japan. The decoration features a mirror, which was an ancient treasure, surrounded by 18 connected circles, and four or eight beams of light. The attachment carries a chrysanthemum leaf pattern. Credit: Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Larger image.

WOODS HOLE, MA—Shinya Inoué, Distinguished Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), has been honored by the Government of Japan with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon award.

The award recognizes Inoué’s “contributions to science and the development of technologies, and the promotion of research cooperation between Japan and the United States.”

The Consul General of Japan in Boston, Masaru Tsuji, will confer the honor upon Dr. Inoué at a private ceremony at the MBL in early June.

Inoué, who has been conducting research at the MBL since the early 1950s, is a leading innovator in microscopy and cell biology. His great contribution has been to pioneer the microscopic imaging of live cells, by inventing new ways of using light waves to explore the intricacies of cellular structure and dynamics.

Inoué’s dual careers as a microscopist and cell biophysicist have been elegantly complementary: Every refinement of his hand-built polarizing microscopes has led to a greater understanding of the most fundamental life processes, including fertilization, cell division, early embryonic development, and cell movement. Disorder of these essential cellular events causes many critical diseases, as well as genetic and growth abnormalities.

Inoué is also the co-inventor of video microscopy, a revolutionary advance that ushered in the modern era of electronic imaging, which quickly advanced to digital imaging. Video microscopy was discovered and developed at the MBL in the early 1980s.

“Our warmest congratulations to Dr. Inoué on the receipt of this honor from the Government of Japan,” said Gary Borisy, Director and CEO of the MBL. “Beyond the great impact he has had at the MBL, Dr. Inoué’s distinguished contributions to biological science have been internationally influential and are widely valued.”

Inoué’s contributions to the MBL have been far-reaching. In 1992, he founded the Architectural Dynamics in Living Cells Program, which became an international, collaborative center for innovation in light microscopy for biological, biomedical, and clinical applications. This program continues today under the umbrella of the MBL Cellular Dynamics Program.

Inoué was also the founding director of the MBL Analytical and Quantitative Light Microscopy course, which pioneered a collaborative commercial/academic format. Thirty years later, this course still provides a fertile meeting ground for advanced training and exchange between the microscopy industry and the academic research community.

As this Order of the Sacred Treasure award recognizes, Inoué has collaborated with many influential Japanese scientists, including his mentor, Katsuma Dan of Tokyo Metropolitan University, and he has trained and mentored numerous younger scientists from Japan. On three occasions, Inoué had the opportunity to give lectures and demonstrations to the late Emperor Showa of Japan.

The son of a Japanese diplomat, Inoué was born in 1921 in London, England.
He received his Ph.D. in biology in 1951 from Princeton University, where he was mentored by cytologist Kenneth W. Cooper. While at Princeton, Inoué improved his hand-built polarized light microscope (now nicknamed the “Shinya Scope”) and in 1951 he used it to prove the universal existence of the spindle fibers, the dynamic protein filaments that move chromosomes in the dividing cell. Inoué announced this landmark discovery in the MBL’s Lillie Auditorium. It was the first major accomplishment in a career devoted to delving into the mysteries of living cells.

Over five decades, Inoué has built seven generations of his Shinya Scope, with technical improvements each time, and in the late 1990s he invented the centrifuge polarizing microscope. Inoué holds four U.S. patents for his microscopes and has authored more than 100 scientific papers, many of which are collected in The Collected Works of Shinya Inoue: Microscopes, Living Cells, and Dynamic Molecules (2008: World Scientific Publishing Co.). He also authored the book Video Microscopy (1986: Plenum Press).

In addition to the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon award, Inoué is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. They include the International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2003); membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America; and the E.B. Wilson Award from the American Society for Cell Biology.

“In an attempt to better understand how cells divide, Dr. Inoué made a series of epochal innovations in the development of light microscopy,” said Emperor Akihito of Japan upon Inoué’s receipt of the International Prize for Biology in 2003. “The products of Dr. Inoué’s research are widely utilized by researchers around the world and contribute immensely to the advancement of biological sciences.”

Inoué and his wife, Sylvia McCandless Inoué, live in Falmouth. They have five children.


The MBL is a leading international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to discovery and to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Americas.