Irving Geis

Throughout his rich and historic career, artist Irving Geis illuminated the wonders of science, from the vastness of space to the intricacies of molecular structures. His early career began in the late 1930's as an illustrator for Fortune Magazine (Fortune's Survey). In 1937, a Fortune Magazine assignment for the heart and circulatory system produced an iconic painting that was his first example of scientific illustration.

For much of his career, beginning in 1948, Irving Geis regularly contributed illustrations to Scientific American, with subjects ranging from astronomy, astrophysics, geophysics and biochemistry. In 1961, in an age before computer graphics, Geis was commissioned by Scientific American to illustrate The Three Dimensional Structure of a Protein Molecule, a landmark article by John Kendrew depicting his discovery of the first protein structure, sperm whale myoglobin. Numerous sketches, studies and photographs were part of the process to achieve the final results. The painting and accompanying illustrations took six months to complete and were published in December 1961. John Kendrew won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his work on myoglobin, and thus established the place of the Myoglobin painting by Irving Geis in the history of science.

Irving Geis' artistry triumphed in defining the key elements of molecular structures through his unique style of lucid visualizations, which resulted in worldwide recognition. In a tribute written for a Geis exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, Dr. Richard E. Dickerson (UCLA) declared "Irving Geis defined structural molecular biology in a visual sense. We have been following his lead—consciously or unconsciously—ever since".

Known as a pioneer in the depiction of the structures of biological macromolecules, Geis' work has served as a guide and an inspiration for generations of researchers, students and scientists.

A Guggenheim Fellowship was awarded to Geis in 1987 for a project to assemble his work into an archive of molecular structures.

Irving Geis' archive of molecular art, consisting of sketches, studies and paintings was purchased by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in 2000. In 2015, the RCSB PDB and HHMI established the Irving Geis Digital Archive to make his molecular art publicly available.