Ultrastructural and thermocouple evaluation of rapid freezing techniques

Karl G. Schwabe, Louis Terracio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quality of freeze-fixation for electron microscopy is dependent upon the size of intracellular ice crystals. In the absence of cryoprotectants, ice crystal growth is thought to be related to the speed with which the specimen is cooled. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the cooling rate and ultrastructural preservation in commonly used freezing techniques. The techniques studied included immersion in stirred and unstirred forms of five quenching fluids: liquid nitrogen, isopentane, Freon 12, Freon 22, and propane. Also studied were freezing in a flowing stream of coolant using liquid nitrogen and liquid helium and freezing on a metal surface using cooper and mercury chilled to liquid nitrogen temperature. For each technique a cooling curve was obtained with a 0.360-mm thermocouple which was dropped into the quenching fluids or brought into contact with the metal surfaces. From oscilloscope tracings, the cooling rates were determined in degrees centigrade per second to -100 °C. To evaluate ultrastructural preservation 0.5-mm-thick slices of rat kidney were frozen by each of the techniques and dried in an all glass freeze-drier. The final evaluation was made from electron micrographs of the best morphological preservation yielded by each technique. The results indicate that the copper and mercury surfaces and propane gave the highest cooling rates and the best morphological preservation. The other techniques cooled at decreasing rates and correspondingly showed decreasing abilities to preserve ultrastructure. This work demonstrates that the preservation of cellular ultrastructure by freezing is dependent upon the cooling rate and that as the cooling rate is increased, ultrastructural preservation is enhanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-584
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1980

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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