Notebooks Can Be Beautiful!

Harvard University Press recently published Field Notes on Science and Nature, a compilation of researcher’s sketches and diagrams that demonstrates both the artistry and value of the practice. Chemists’ notebooks are themselves the movie stars of CHF’s archival collections; not only do they open up a window into the thought processes of their owners, but they are frequently embellished with sketches of those thoughts. The page below, for example, from one of Richard Smalley’s lab notebooks, is the first visualization of the structure of buckminsterfullerine (also affectionately known as a "buckyball").

Detail from Richard Smalley notebooks, CHF Collections. Photograph by Gregoy Tobias.

We also have examples of 19th century notebooks:

Detail from Charles Chandler notebooks, CHF Collections. 

Like many chemists, Charles F. Chandler had a keen interest in natural history. In 1853, as a 17-year-old student, he attended a series of lectures given by the famed Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz at the Lowell Institute. The notebook that he kept included both newspaper clippings reporting on the lectures and his own carefully recorded notes. At times Chandler accompanies his notes with ink drawings and here we see his renderings of a polyp, a medusa and an echinoderm based upon Agassiz’s tenth lecture, given on January 6, 1854.

Detail from Charles Smyth notebooks, CHF Collections.

The page above is from a notebook kept by Charles Henry Smyth, Jr., a Professor of Geology at Princeton University and the father of two chemists—Charles P. Smyth, who also taught at Princeton, and Henry D. Smyth, who taught Physics at Harvard. But in 1889, he was a student at Columbia University, enrolled in a course on Advanced Mineralogy. This page of beautiful sketches done with colored pencils dates from that period and depicts various types of granite formations.

Andrew Mangravite is Archivist at CHF’s Othmer Library of Chemical History.

Beautiful Data: The Art of Science Field Notes [Wired Science]
Papers of Individuals [CHF Collections]

Posted In: History

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