Image: SANDY GEIS
Long before computer graphics were capable of rendering the intricacies of important biological molecules, the artist Irving Geis (1908-1997) could. His renowned paintings, sketches and drawings helped generations of researchers to visualize complex macromolecules, such as cytochromes and viruses. Geis illustrated numerous textbooks, guest lectured at universities and medical schools throughout the U.S. and exhibited his work at many prominent scientific institutions. Much of his work appeared in the pages of Scientific American, which in 1961 published his painting of myoglobin, the first such depiction of protein crystal structure, for an article by John Kendrew. Among other assignments for the magazine, Geis illustrated Sputnik, continental drift and the DNA double helix.
Now the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has purchased the Geis Archives, including much of Geis's artwork, correspondence and private journals. "We are honored to take responsibility for this archive," says Nobel laureate Thomas R. Cech, the institute's president. "Irving Geis was a pioneer in molecular art who worked closely with scientists to reveal the beauty of nature. He took great care to ensure accuracy and had a gift for depicting the three-dimensionality and movement of molecules. Even today many of his images compare favorably with those produced by high-tech computer graphics." HHMI plans to display the works at its headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., and will also create an online exhibit. In addition, the collection will be made available to other institutions.