The man who built the Moon

Roger Hayward was an American artist as well as an inventor, almost forgotten today. He died in 1979, having spent eight decades in this world, which filled with a multitude of activities. In addition to being an excellent painter and sculptor, he also worked on various architectural projects and, during the 1930s and 1940s, was a kind of “orchestra man” at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Roger Hayward, in 1934, working on a model of the lunar surface with almost 25 meters in diameter. (Image: Los Angeles Public Library, Security National Bank Collection, The Linus Pauling Blog).

Hayward was involved in optical tasks as he was in preparing the illustrations for exhibition panels. In 1945 he patented a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope camera and later worked closely with the great Linus Pauling to create illustrations of molecular structures. However, if there is one project that can be considered his masterpiece, along with his other patents on various optical devices, is their great Moon models.

Walt Disney with one of Hayward’s moon models in 1955.

Yes, because from photographs taken by means of telescopes of the surface visible from the Earth of our natural satellite, Hayward created several lunar models, like realistic giant sculptures, which were used in the cinema, museum and exhibitions. Some have been lost, which is a pity, but others can still be contemplated, such as the present in the Griffith Observatory.

Disney operatives prepare a moon model, 1955.

Further information:

  • Roger Hayward (1899-1979).
  • Kevin Kidney: Mr. Hayward’s Moon Model.
  • Dinosaurs and Robots: Moon Maker.

  • Fleming, the painter of microbial pictures

    The History of Medicine tells that, back in 1877, as an assistant to the great Robert Koch (known mainly for his work on tuberculosis, as well as for being the father of medical microbiology), an idea emerged in the mind of the German physician Julius Richard Petri. There must have been some way to facilitate the handling of microbial cultures and, out of that discomfort, the famous Petri dishes were born.

    Specially designed for bacterial cultures, mould and other microorganisms, these dishes continue to be used in microbiology. Another technique developed at the same time and which, together with the Petri dishes, turns out to be a magnificent canvas for a certain type of art, continues to be used. Let’s see, around 1881 the doctor Walther Hesse, also a disciple of Koch, perfected a technique by which he could cultivate microorganisms in an appropriate and practical way, which until then was a real nightmare. After much rehearsal, it was his wife, Fanny Hesse, who gave birth to the idea of using an algae-derived extract known as agar-agar as a culture medium (she had used this material in jams for years). Agar-agar was shown to be ideal for gelling the culture medium, resulting in a material that remains solid at room temperature. It is a translucent medium in which bacteria grow at ease, making it easier to identify the colonies.

    Some of Alexander Fleming’s microbial paints. Imperial College Healthcare – NHs Trust.

    So we already have the above-mentioned canvas, a petri dish, and a medium for bacterial culture, agar-agar. From there, to create works of art, there is only one step. Fanny Hesse herself, who was an excellent painter, produced several works in which she immortalized some microbial cultures. Now, it’s not about painting what you see in a lab, it’s about painting with your own bacteria (or fungi) growing! In this way the microbial art was born, which consists of “painting” using as canvas petri dishes with cultures of different types of microorganisms, usually using agar-agar as a medium. Bacteria, fungi or yeasts can be used with their original colours, or fluorescent (under suitable light) or with various pigments. Once the microorganisms have grown according to the patterns drawn on the plate, the result is fixed with synthetic resin and, that’s it, we have a work of microbial art.

    Interestingly, one of the most famous microbial “painters” was Alexander Fleming, discoverer of the antibiotic action of lysozyme and penicillin. In fact, Fleming had been an amateur painter for years, being a member of art groups and the like, so it is not surprising that he ended up creating art with microorganisms and petri dishes. Okay, the results were simple, but they have their charm and the technique is far from simple. It is necessary to select the appropriate microorganisms, their colors, trace the pattern by means of grooves in the agar-agar medium on the petri dish and then deposit each type of microorganism in the appropriate place, so that they grow following the pattern marked in a few controlled times. It has complications, no doubt. Today these curious works of art are housed in the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum at Imperial College Healthcare – NHs Trust.

    Further información: Smithsonian – Painting With Penicillin: Alexander Fleming’s Germ Art.

    Photographing Hell

    In times it was thought that Venus was a paradise, an aquatic world that hid its secrets behind an impenetrable shield of clouds. They were right, because the clouds darken the surface and until recent times the truth was not discovered, namely, that Venus is the closest thing to hell, or at least to that kind of incandescent, sulphurous and soporific hell that has sometimes been imagined.

    Finally, our neighboring planet unveiled its mysteries, the radar penetrated its dense layer of sulphurous clouds and maps of the Venusian surface could be made, especially thanks to the Magellan spacecraft. Today, a new spatial ingenuity has arrived at Venus, the Venus Express, which has generate much more information for the good of knowledge of the Solar System and, therefore, of our own world.

    However, attempts have been made for a long time to land on the surface of Venus, but the infernal conditions to which the probe must be subjected make it very problematic. As a tribute to the machines that have been frying on the Venusian surface for years, I make a brief review of the photographs taken, until now, of the landscapes of hell

    Photographs of the Soviet spaceships Venera 9 and 10

    Operating in extreme conditions, in less than an hour the circuits of the probes were destroyed, but managed to send some photographs. You can’t see much, it looks like a simple field of rocks, but it’s quite a feat, you have to think that the camera is surrounded by an corrosive atmosphere.

    Photographs of the Venera 13

    This probe was luckier, carried a color television camera and survived the Venusian atmosphere for more than two hours. He managed to get several images, but the color it’s not very real, since different filters were used and because the atmosphere of the planet distorts the vision a lot.

    Photographs of the Venera 14 spacecraft

    Martians, 1934

    Now we know that, if there were life on Mars, it would be exclusively microbial. The time of the “martian fever”, which was encouraged by H. G. Welles, and later by Orson Welles, has passed. Nor should we forget the delirious history of the martian canals. It should be remembered, however, that in the 1930s science was already quite clear about this theme. Issue 15 of Science News, 1934, states emphatically:

    Astronomers now feel sure that if life exists on our neighbor planets such as Mars, it is of the humblest kind.