three or four years, there has been a
big change in the way we study
structure as a consequence of detectors for electrons.
“We can use an electron microscope, which is just like a light
microscope, but instead of light it
uses electrons. Electrons have a
much shorter wavelength. So with
electron microscopes, we can see
atoms. Light microscopes, you can’t
because the light wavelength is too
long. You get direct imaging of what
you want to look at, but to do that, we
still have enormous computing problems because we have to take hundreds of thousands of images of the
virus in different orientations. Saving
all of that data in systematic ways
takes tremendous resources.”
Michael Rossmann uses an
electron microscope in the
Purdue Cryo-EM Facility. For
most of his past 50 years of
crystallography was the
standard method to
determine virus structure.
microscopy can be used to
view some viruses in a more
Rossmann now lives at University
Place, a retirement community in
West Lafayette, significantly farther
from Purdue than his old home. He
accepts vehicular transportation to
work these days, but he still carves
out about 30 minutes per day to walk
around Discovery Park. Ideas and
solutions to problems are still being
worked out during these strolls.
What drives him to continue his
research at the age of 86 is the ever-evolving nature of viruses. Humans
must stay a step ahead of these
“I have too much work, too many
projects that I want to do,” he says.
Also, his dedication to his PhD
students makes him want to keep
working. He beams with pride when
he speaks of these successful scientists. His current crop of students and
postdoctoral researchers represents
India, China, Indonesia, Germany,
Russia and Nepal. They are all working on solving different viruses —
like a global all-star team.
“I feel very fortunate having an
international family of students all
over the world,” Rossmann says.
And the admiration is mutual.
Liu is happy to still be in Hockmeyer,
just several steps away from a structural biology icon.
“He’s always positive,” Liu says.
“He always loves challenges, and he
never gives up.”