Since NCMIR's inception in 1988, its strong commitment to multidisciplinary research has given rise to breakthroughs in a variety of fields, including biological specimen preparation, instrumentation, and software development. NCMIR has been a driving force in the application of high-performance computing and information technologies to advance biomedical science, including the first demonstration of remote control of an electron microscope over the Internet in 1992.

As the speed and power of networks continued to increase, this initial demonstration of remote microscopy grew into the Telescience Project, an alpha project of NSF's National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI). The Telescience Project drove the development of the first integrated cyber-infrastructure for electron microscopy whereby a single, unifying web interface and sign-on provided access to a suite of tools for data acquisition and analysis, including remote microscopy, bioinformatics, distributed computing, and collaborative visualization. This integrated cyber-infrastructure model now underpins a number of large scale research networks, spanning neuro-informatics to microbial ecology.

Now in its third decade of continuous operation, the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research continues to serve as an innovative leader in the research and development of technologies for multi-scale, multi-modal 3D and 4D imaging and correlated light and electron microscopy. Key technologies of the resource include, intermediate voltage transmission electron microscopy, electron microscopic tomography, direct electron detection, energy filtered TEM, electron energy loss spectroscopy, high speed multi-photon light microscopy, super-resolution light microscopy, and serial blockface scanning electron microscopy.

Key Milestones

The following timeline presents highlights of NCMIR's first 23 years.

May 1988

NCMIR, initially named the San Diego Microscopy and Imaging Center, is established as an NIH/NCRR P41 research resource.

August 1990

Synu (“Synthetic Universes”), one of the first open-source programs for 3D surface rendering, is made available to the scientific community.

August 1990

Installation of the JEM-4000EX IVEM begins.

July 1992

Telemicroscopy debuts at Siggraph 1992, controlling the JEM-4000EX IVEM at NCMIR from Chicago, Illinois.


NCMIR originates the use of eosin for fluorescence photooxidation as a staining technique for correlated light and electron microscopic imaging. PubMed


NCMIR pioneers the use of serial tomography combining serial section reconstruction and electron tomography to reconstruct large structures in the nervous system. PubMed

August 1997

NCMIR scientists use electron tomography to define a new paradigm for mitochondrial structure. PubMed

June 1999

Trans-Pacific Telemicroscopy controls the UHVEM at Osaka University from UCSD.


NCMIR demonstrates the use of fluorescent phalloidin as a tool for the study of actin networks at high resolution. PubMed

September 2001

NCMIR is established as a node in the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN).

November 2001

Telescience wins award for "Best Network Enabled Application" at the SC2001 (Supercomputing) Bandwidth Challenge.

January 2002

NCMIR publishes a new view of astrocyte structure, showing that astrocytes are bigger than originally thought and occupy non-overlapping domains. PubMed

March 2002

The Cell Centered Database (CCDB) premiers. The CCDB, one of the first Internet databases containing shared data repositories for cellular data, was launched to make 3D microscopic imaging data available to the scientific community.

April 2002

FlaSH/ReASh system is introduced for correlated live imaging and electron microscopy of genetically engineered fluorescent probes. PubMed

October 2002

Installation of the JEM-3200EF Omega Filter Equipped IVEM begins.

May 2003

Memorandum of Understanding is signed between UCSD/NCMIR and the Korea Basic Sciences Institute to promote international collaboration surrounding the 1.25 MeV UHV-TEM.

July 2003

Memorandum of Understanding among UCSD/NCMIR, Osaka University, and KDDI Research Laboratories is signed to promote the development of applications and technologies for high-performance streaming video over next generation networks.

November 2003

Telescience wins award for "Best Application" at the SC2003 Bandwidth Challenge.

September 2005

NIH funds the Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF), a vital component of the Blueprint for Neuroscience, a collaborative effort of 16 NIH institutes, centers, and offices. Google releases Google Earth.

April 2007

NCRR awards large grant to NCMIR for a cutting-edge, high-energy electron microscope (TITAN).

October 2008

NCMIR co-PI Roger Tsien shares Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Drs. Martin Chalfie and Osamu Shimomura. ATI unveils 1 Teraflop graphics card.

October 2009

NIF launches NeuroLex, a wiki-based dynamic lexicon of neuroscience concepts. Whole Brain Catalog launched at the Society for Neurosciences Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

May 2010

NCMIR images appear on the cover of Science of the first synthetic life form, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0, developed by pioneering geneticist J. Craig Venter.

December 2011

The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) and NCMIRjoin forces to provide a unified interface as the Cell Centered Database joins The Cell: An Image Library.