Illustrating Science

Pastel drawing of the molecular structure of molybdenumdichloride. By Roger Hayward, 1964.

Pastel drawing of the molecular structure of molybdenumdichloride. By Roger Hayward, 1964.

[Ed Note: Of the thirteen books that Linus Pauling authored or edited, The Architecture of Molecules stands out as being very different. A slender volume of just over 100 pages, the 1964 publication consists almost entirely of beautiful and intricate pastel representations of molecular structures drawn by Roger Hayward and contextualized with short scientific descriptions authored by Pauling.  This is post 1 of 2 exploring the back story behind this unique book as well as its publication.]

It is not unusual to find pictures of Linus Pauling surrounded by three-dimensional molecular models or with drawings of molecules and their bonds covering his work space. Pauling believed that understanding the physical properties of molecules was crucial to understanding their chemical interactions. This guiding principle made Pauling an influential figure in his use of models and illustrations to explain the properties of substances.

Pauling’s 1947 textbook, General Chemistry, became a best-seller in part because because it presented novel new methods for teaching chemistry at the undergraduate level. The book incorporated quantum physics, atomic theory and real-world examples in explaining basic chemical principles, and a key feature of the text was that it used illustrations like nobody else had done before. Prior to the publication of General Chemistry, the properties of atoms and molecular bonding were described and taught in such a way that students were required to think abstractly about chemical reactions without a full understanding of the physical interactions that caused these reactions. General Chemistry changed all that.

From his high school years through his post-graduate studies, Pauling had experienced numerous approaches to teaching chemistry. Pauling, of course, had been asked to teach introductory chemistry while himself an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College, and it was during a similar stint teaching freshman as a graduate student at Caltech that Pauling began to devise a plan for his revolutionary textbook. He was certain that in this new project, illustrations and diagrams would serve an essential role in engaging students and helping them to understand the fundamentals of chemistry.

Luckily for Pauling, members of the Caltech faculty had already developed a close connection with an unusually skilled Pasadena artist, inventor and architect – Roger Hayward. His keen ability to illustrate scientific concepts in an accurate and accessible way made him the perfect choice to create the visuals for Pauling’s textbook.

Illustration by Roger Hayward of a high-vacuum apparatus as published in Procedures in Experimental Physics, 1938.

Illustration by Roger Hayward of a high-vacuum apparatus as published in Procedures in Experimental Physics, 1938.

A trained architect, Roger Hayward’s career path was unique, to say the least. A recent transplant from the East Coast when the Depression hit, Hayward was forced to expand his occupational enterprises well beyond architecture, as sour economic times dried up the building design market for several years running. While this was surely a difficult transition for Hayward, the period did grant him the opportunity to cultivate his creativity and his talents in many other fields of interest.

As he endeavored to make ends meet, Hayward’s artistic inclinations led him to explore broad new avenues, from painting to puppeteering. For a time, he even satisfied his interests in scientific experimentation by performing research in the field of optics and ballistics at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, studies which ultimately resulted in his attaining seven patents for optical devices and procedures. Indeed, Hayward had already made a place for himself in the sciences by the time that Pauling approached him with the offer to illustrate General Chemistry. Aside from his optics work, Hayward had already illustrated a number of scientific publications, including a textbook, Procedures in Experimental Physics.

The principal author of Procedures in Experimental Physics was Hayward’s close friend John D. Strong, a professor of physics and astronomy at Caltech. Strong felt comfortable collaborating with Hayward because he was very familiar with his friend’s interests in science and art, and he appreciated his strong aptitude in both disciplines. Procedures in Experimental Physics was a success, and both Strong and Hayward received good reviews for their work.

Buoyed by this strong critical reception, Hayward’s continuing interest and understanding of architecture, art and science positioned him well within the community of scientific illustrators. As with others, Hayward was adept at creating an aesthetically appealing yet technically precise illustration. But the trait that really set him apart was the pleasure that he took in researching the science behind his assignments. In many respects, Hayward was as much a scientist as he was an artist.

Roger Hayward, ca. 1960s.

Roger Hayward, ca. 1960s.

Published in 1938, Procedures in Experimental Physics marked the beginning of a new and prosperous chapter of Hayward’s unique career. During this period, scientific illustration would be the main focus of his energies, with architecture and the fine arts slipping well into the background. As his reputation grew, he found regular work with Scientific American, a popular science magazine, and was commonly sought out by professors at Caltech. It was during this time as well that Pauling became acquainted with Hayward. Not surprisingly, when Pauling needed to find an illustrator for his first college text book, his thoughts immediately turned to Hayward.

Working with Pauling, however, was not the same as working with John Strong. Strong had such a high appreciation for Hayward’s work as both a scientist and an artist that he split royalties on basis of space coverage. This meant that Strong assigned as much monetary value to Hayward’s illustrations as he did to his other co-authors’ written work. Strong’s perspective, however, was rather unique and when Pauling first asked Hayward to illustrate General Chemistry, he did not expect the illustrations to cost as much as Hayward billed.

Most scientists, including Pauling, believed that the training, research and experimentation from which a text results have more merit than do illustrations. Though he placed a premium on visual depictions, in Pauling’s mind it seemed fair to assign more value to the text than to the illustration. Pauling’s publisher, William Freeman of W.H. Freeman & Co., agreed with Pauling and referred to Hayward as “a bit of a prima donna” because he believed that Hayward overestimated the value of his work. In his correspondence with Pauling, Freeman also revealed that Hayward had regularly come into conflict with his firm over compensation issues. The company, however, continued to contract with Hayward simply because his illustrations were unsurpassed.

After settling their differences, Pauling and Hayward began to bond over their similar interests. By then, John Strong had taken a position in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University. His closest science-minded friend now on the other side of the country, Hayward increasingly came to use his connection with Pauling to further discussions on scientific advances.

Hayward’s background as an artist and architect also enabled his exploration of three-dimensional molecular models, a pursuit of special affinity for Pauling, and once again, the two began discussing each other’s ideas. Pauling suggested that Hayward use models to convey recent findings in structural chemistry, especially regarding crystal structure. Gradually, through many conversations, Pauling too came to recognize Hayward as a scientist, rather than merely a skilled artist.