Fritz Goro was one of the most influential photographers of all time, capturing images of scientific advancement from atomic orbitals, DNA helices, and computer chips to stars. For four decades his work was regularly published on Life Magazine and Scientific American.
He designed his own optical systems to capture (often for the first time, by anyone) everything from bioluminescence to the mechanisms behind the circulation of blood through a living body. He traveled the globe from the Antarctic, Mexican jungles and the Australian outback enduring brutal cold and searing heat; but more often than not, it was in the controlled, cool space of a laboratory or a studio that he crafted his most breathtaking, groundbreaking work.
When he died in 1986, at the age of 85, a former science editor at LIFE named Gerard Piel said of Goro that “it was his artistry and ingenuity that made [his] photographs of abstractions, of the big ideas from the genetic code to plate tectonics” so effective and so utterly memorable.
16 years after his death LIFE.com presents a selection of photographs that hint at the scope of Goro’s achievement while paying tribute to the boundless range of human intellect, curiosity and imagination. Here are some of my favorite images.
A pair of 90-day-old cow fetuses clearly visible inside an amniotic sac, 1965.
Fetus in an artificial womb, 1965.
Sheep that survived an atom bomb test are studied for radiation poisoning, 1949.
An anesthetized monkey has its brain activity monitored, 1971.
A speck of the world's first plutonium, 1946.
Blood circulating through a heart, 1948.
Research on cigarette smoking and lung cancer, 1953.