Artist Irving Geis
Artwork from world-renowned scientific artist and Georgia Tech alumnus, Irving Geis, are displayed on the walls of the three floors of the IBB atrium. This collection is the only of its kind displayed anywhere in the world.
Irving Geis’ Life
Throughout his rich and historic career, artist Irving Geis (1908-1997) illuminated the wonders of science, from the vastness of space to the intricacies of molecular structures. His career as a scientific visualizer began with a painting of the circulatory system for Fortune magazine in 1937. For much of his career, Mr. Geis regularly contributed illustrations to Scientific American, helping readers visualize material about astronomy, astrophysics, geophysics and biochemistry.
In 1961, he was commissioned by Scientific American to illustrate John Kendrew’s article of the first protein structure, Myoglobin, followed by illustrations for David Phillips’ November 1966 article on the first enzyme structure, Lysozyme.
Irving Geis’ innovations in molecular art gave him an international reputation. Known as a pioneer in the depiction of the structures of biological macromolecules, his work has served as a guide and an inspiration for generations of researchers, students and scientists..
A native New Yorker, he studied architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and received a bachelor’s degree of fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1929.
Mr. Geis illustrated textbooks on immunology, chemistry and bio-chemistry. As a co-author with Dr. Richard E. Dickerson, UCLA, he produced and illustrated several textbooks: The Structure and Action of Proteins; Hemoglobin: Structure, Function, Evolution and Pathology; and Chemistry, Matter and the Universe. In addition, his work has appeared in Zubay’s Biochemistry; Van Holde and Mathews’ Biochemistry; and Voet and Voet’s Biochemistry.
A Guggenheim Fellowship was awarded to Irving Geis in 1987 for a project to assemble his work into an archive of molecular structures.
A frequent lecturer on molecular structure at universities and medical schools, Geis also exhibited his work in various scientific institutions around the country, culminating in a solo exhibition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993. The National Academy of Sciences displayed a section of his works in a tribute to him in the spring of 1998.
The Geis Archives, consisting of paintings, drawings, sketches, studies and historical papers, was purchased by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Maryland in the fall of 2000.
The first piece in the Geis collection which a visitor sees upon entering the IBB atrium is his world-famous painting of Cytochrome C, which has been reproduced in textbooks world-wide, among them Voet & Voet’s Biochemistry.
This piece represents a flight of the artist’s imagination, inspired by the futurist period in art. The original painting is on wood measuring approximately 6’x9’, and it was a particular favorite of Irving Geis. Although this original was recently purchased by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, it is currently in the possession of Irving’s daughter, Sandy Geis, and will remain so for the remainder of her lifetime.
Asparate Transcarbamylas (ATCase)
Asparate Transcarbamylas (ATCase) is the enzyme which catalyzes the first committed step in the biosynthesis of pyrimidine bases, which are components of DNA and RNA. ATCase is a very complex protein, consisting of six catalytic subunits (blue-green in the figure) and six regulatory subunits (yellow). The upper drawing shows ATCase in its active R (relaxed) state, whereas the inactive T (tense) state is depicted in the lower drawing. Binding of regulatory molecules gives rise to a dramatic change in the separation between catalytic trimers as well as to a rotation of one trimer relative to the other. This figure was intended to elegantly depict this rather complicated motion by depicting an unscrewing motion in the molecule.
Crambin is a small, 46-residue protein found in Abbysinian cabbage seed. IN this illustration of the crambin molecule, the artist utilizes one of the three pairs of sulfur atoms in the molecule as a source of light. This original artwork was first exhibited in Mr. Geis’ retrospective exhibit entitled “Irving Geis, Molecular Art” at the Compton Gallery on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This painting, which dramatically illustrates the twisted beta sheet structure of the enzyme Ribonuclease-S, was commissioned as a gift in honor of Professor Fredric M. Richards by his students at Yale University. The enzyme is seen in complex with a dinucleotide sustrate analog which is shown in red. The four disulfide bonds which play an essential role in maintaining the three dimensional structure of Ribonclease S are shown in yellow. Like Geis’ cytochrome c illustration on the first floor, this image is very well-known and has been reproduced in many textbooks world-wide.
According to Irvin’s daughter, Sandy Geis, this sketch served as the inspiration for the finished art being prepared for Dr. Richards at Yale. The sketch is from the archives and has never been published.
This piece illustrates the structure of the DNA polymerase II transcription machinery responsible for messenger RNA production in eukaryotic cells. The gold crescent-shaped molecule at the heart of the molecular machine is responsible for recognition of the TATA element. This piece was commissioned by Stephen K. Burley of Rockefeller University, a long time friend, colleague and collaborator of Irving Geis.
This painting was another piece exhibited by the artist in his exhibit “Irving Geis: Molecular Art” at the Compton Gallery in 1993. Irving himself wrote the following caption: “This simplified visualization of myoglobin shows on the main polypeptide chain and the heme (red disc) where oxygen is reversibly bound to the central iron atom.” In this work, airbrushing played an important part in the scintillating quality of the image. Mr. Geis also produced many versions of this illustration in pen and ink.
DNA Base Pair Stacking
These two pieces represent an abstract visualization of the base pair stacking in the double helical DNA molecule. They are shown here in working (left) and finished forms. Geis referred to this artistically innovative representation as “base pair boards around a central axis.” He painted several color studies of this image.
This piece consists of sketches of the twisting in DNA in it’s a, B and Z forms. It was found by Irving’s daughter, Sandy Geis, filed among a variety of other sketches and studies. The sketches have the artistic grace and inspiration so familiar in Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches. Sandy recalls that Leonardo was definitely a major force in her father’s life, and that da Vinci’s anatomy books were highly prized by Irving.
Lac Repressor (Monomer)
These two paintings are the last illustrations created by Irving Geis. They were drawn on the basis of sketches, scientific papers and discussions with Dr. Ponzy Lu and Dr. Mitchell Lewis at the University of Pennsylvania.