Feld's biospectroscopy legacy

July 1, 2010
In a recent webcast, Harvard chemistry professor Sunney Xie (http://bit.ly/aXyGAi) explored label-free imaging of living cells and organisms based on molecular spectroscopy.

In a recent webcast, Harvard chemistry professor Sunney Xie (http://bit.ly/aXyGAi) explored label-free imaging of living cells and organisms based on molecular spectroscopy. The thought-provoking presentation and Q&A, available on demand at http://bit.ly/b1q02Z, covered recent advances in stimulated Raman scattering microscopy and stimulated emission microscopy, which enable unprecedented sensitivity—and their implications for biology and medicine.

It occurred to me when I learned of the April passing of MIT physics professor Michael S. Feld (http://bit.ly/bHkjzw) that the work Xie described is built firmly upon Feld's contributions. So is that of researchers working under Anita Mahadevan-Jansen at Vanderbilt University (http://bit.ly/aOqFVw), Robert Alfano at City University of New York (see www.bioopticsworld.com/articles/345204) and Arjun Yodh at the University of Pennsylvania (see www.bioopticsworld.com/articles/322985).

Feld was director of the George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory and the Laser Biomedical Research Center—both at MIT—where he worked with students and post-docs to develop spectroscopic examination of cells and tissue. His demonstration, in 1985, that fluorescence can be used to diagnose atherosclerosis laid the foundation for the field of Raman spectral diagnosis of disease. It also enabled development of such useful tools as coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS) and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS).

During an interview with BioOptics World in 2008 (http://bit.ly/a2FHMv), Feld explained that he sought to solve problems by understanding the basics rather than by adopting an empirical approach. He said that collecting Raman spectra during his first experiments with tissue samples required an extraordinarily long time, and that the output was overwhelmed by background fluorescence. But looking closely at the data, Feld was able to recognize clearly defined signals. When an evaluation committee of Raman experts advised him to terminate the project, he worked to convince the members to let him persevere. He said that he took joy in making "something useful" out of "nothing."

Feld succeeded in making something useful, too, from his deeply held beliefs about underrepresented minorities in science each time he graduated an African-American Ph.D. "I know I can't change the world, but I feel I can effectively change my own institution," he said.

But while change necessarily starts small, it perpetuates. The work that Xie described in his webcast is just one testimonial to Feld's perseverance and pursuit of joy in discovery.

About the Author

Barbara Gefvert | Editor-in-Chief, BioOptics World (2008-2020)

Barbara G. Gefvert has been a science and technology editor and writer since 1987, and served as editor in chief on multiple publications, including Sensors magazine for nearly a decade.

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