September 30, 2019

Shinya Inoué in 2010 upon receiving the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon Award from the government of Japan. Credit: Evy Inoué
Shinya Inoué in 2010 upon receiving the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon Award from the government of Japan. Credit: Evy Inoué

Dr. Shinya Inoué, 98, of Falmouth, Massachusetts, quietly passed from natural causes on the morning of Monday, September 30, 2019. He leaves his wife of 67 years, Sylvia (McCandless) Inoué; children: Heather (Richard), Jonathan (Jonel), Christopher (Caroline), Stephen (Claudia), and Theodore (Evelyn); sisters: Sumiko, Akiko, and Futaba; niece: Fumi; several grandchildren: Penelope, Elizabeth, Sean, Katie, Lauren and Chris, and one great grandchild, Ariel. He will be remembered for his love of teaching, his numerous contributions to science, his wry sense of humor, and his kindness.

A Celebration of Shinya Inoué’s Life will be held at the MBL on October 26, 2019 at the MBL Club, 100 Water Street, Woods Hole from 12 – 2 PM. Refreshments and light food will be available from 12 – 1 PM followed by a Celebration of Dr. Inoué’s life from 1 -2 PM. Friends, families, and colleagues are encouraged to share their stories and remembrances (collected here; a video of the ceremony is here). The MBL’s news announcement of Dr. Inoué’s passing is here.

Shinya Inoué was born in 1921 in London, England, to Kojiro and Hideko Inoué. His father was a Japanese diplomat who travelled extensively. As a child, Dr. Inoué also lived In China, the United States and Australia before moving back to Tokyo, Japan as a high school student. He then went on to study biology at Tokyo University. He joked that he tricked his father into allowing him to study biology by claiming it was a stepping stone to becoming a doctor – a far more prestigious career path than a lowly scientist.

During World War II, at the age of 26, Shinya built his first microscope  from a tin-can and parts of a salvaged machine gun. The microscope became known as the Shinya Scope and was featured in a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon.

After World War II, he entered America on one of the first passports issued to a Japanese citizen. His destination was Princeton University, where he would receive his PhD in biology. He fondly recalled his time at Princeton during the “Einstein era”, watching the frizzy-haired physicist ride across campus on his bicycle. He also said he was impressed that fellow grad student, John Nash (featured in the Oscar winning movie, ‘A Beautiful Mind’) figured out one of his magic tricks – something no other Princeton student had done.

Not to be outdone by his famous Princeton colleagues, Dr. Inoué developed an international reputation as a groundbreaking cell biologist and microscopist, obtaining patents for specialized microscope optics that allowed scientists to see processes in living cells that no one had seen before. He continued this throughout his career, perhaps most notably when he pioneered the field of video microscopy, a revolutionary advance that ushered in a new era in biological research. His book, Video Microscopy, became the standard reference for the field.

Shinya Inoué showing his lighter side. Photo courtesy of the Inoue Family.
Shinya Inoué showing his lighter side. Photo courtesy of the Inoue Family.

He received many awards for his contributions to science, culminating with the 2003 International Prize For Biology from the Emperor of Japan, one of the highest honors awarded to natural scientists. In spite of such acclaim, he remained humble, always encouraging and helping others.

For more than half a century, Dr. Inoué called the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, his home. MBL was such an important part of his life that he provided significant personal funding to the laboratory and formed the department of Cellular Dynamics where he actively worked well into his eighties. In 2016, Dr. Inoué published his autobiography, Pathways of a Cell Biologist, in which he revealed his personal evolution as a man, scientist, and father.

Rudolf Oldenbourg, friend and colleague, shared his feelings: “For the last 30 years, I had the great fortune to work with Shinya Inoué, who was an exacting and demanding, yet patient and always generous mentor, who taught by example, combining a passion both for creating tools and applying them to reveal the mysteries of life. Inoué not only was an outstanding scientist, but he is universally respected for his kind and thoughtful ways, for his humanity, and his attention to personal relationships.”

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to: Marine Biological Laboratory, in memory of Shinya Inoué, MBL Development Office, Candle House, 7 MBL St., Woods Hole, MA  02543. They can also be made online by clicking here.