Cytometry and Antibody Technology

Howard Shapiro and the Bible of Flow Cytometry

by | Dec 3, 2021 | Announcements | 4 comments

Dr. Howard Shapiro passed away in November 2021.

When I started working in the Flow Cytometry Core Facility in 2005, my new colleagues Ryan Duggan and James Marvin’s knowledge of Flow Cytometry already towered over most. I rapidly figured that I needed to catch up if I wanted to be of any use to anyone. I decided to go through Dr. Shapiro’s Practical Flow Cytometry 4th edition. It’s a very dense technical manual that covers every single aspects of the technology, But it’s written with spectacular clarity and a lot of humor. It guides newcomers and veterans alike through the technical intricacies of flow cytometers in detail without drowning the reader with specialist jargon. It’s actually a very pleasant read. Even though some portions of the book are now a bit out-of-date, it remains an incredibly valuable text. The basics of flow have not changed all that much over the last decades, and Howard Shapiro explains them as completely and clearly as anyone ever did. And it provides an invaluable historical context to the development of Flow Cytometry up until the year of its publication. So my point is that reading this manual allowed me to jump-start my understanding of the technology and I’ve been going back to it regularly ever since. I kept in mind Dr Shapiro’s laws of Flow Cytometry. The first one states that a 51um particle clogs a 51um orifice. Keep an eye on the important stuff.

(Practical Flow Cytometry 4th edition is still available at this time, and Beckman Coulter offers a free digitized version here.)

I’m pretty sure I first saw Dr. Shapiro at a Flow Cytometry meeting in Quebec City in 2006. He was carrying a guitar in the middle of the Exposition Floor and stopped somewhere to sing songs about fluorophores. It wasn’t clear to me who he was until I saw him again at the end of a scientific session, as he was terrorizing a helpless presenter with a ruthless line of questioning. I never actually spoke to him, but was always excited to see him respond to questions on the Purdue Flow Cytometry email list – the place to be to get in touch with experts in the Flow Cytometry field. Dr. Shapiro’s contributions were always complete, detailed, and thought-provoking, but he was always kind and patient with anyone who wanted to engage with questions.

This is by no means a unique experience on my part. I suspect that most people working in flow core facilities have been influenced the same way without ever having met him. I strongly suspect that this is why I find so many commonalities among people in the field. We are all more or less fun and funny people, passionate about the technology, willing and happy to help with any questions or problems, and we get annoyed when the fundamentals of flow aren’t respected. I think this is all due to the example set by Dr. Shapiro. So on top of his tireless scientific pursuits, I’d say that Dr. Shapiro shaped the Flow Cytometry field into a fun, kind, supporting, and rigorous place. I don’t think anyone can convince me otherwise.


  1. Hi Can I get a copy of this book onilne?

    • Hi Sameer,
      Coulter offers a series of eBooks on various topics, and Shapiro’s Practical Flow Cytometry is listed. I was looking at the page and can’t seem to access the book. It may be a temporary problem, I’m unsure.

      If you’re looking for more online resources, I have a list here.

  2. Is the Purdue Flow Cytometry email list still active? The link for the Discussion list is broken.

    • The list is still active, I’m unsure what’s happening with the Purdue website. I’ll ask around!


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