Today I decided I’ll go find Melvin Calvin‘s 1955 JACS paper.  For anyone who has taken biology, he’s the Calvin that the Calvin cycle is named after: his work on the “dark reactions” in plants — i.e., how plants fix carbon dioxide into triose-phosphates — earned him a Nobel prize in 1961.  The sequence of work was reported in a series of papers, of which most are two-author papers with titles like The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis. V. and the numbering goes up to (at least) XXII.  They are through-and-through interesting papers to read, and have surprisingly modern takes on visualization/data representation.

Back as an undergrad I read many papers of this type, and they colored my view of what it means to research and publish.  I saw chemistry research as a sustained focus over many years on the part of the mentor, intense unique work by the pupil, and the conduct of science as a two man show where both bring something irreplaceable to the table.  It’s not how modern chemistry groups tends to be ran, but I’m fortunate that Tom is exactly this old-school kind of gentleman.

But today, there’s a different reason I sought one of these paper in physical print.  The paper in question is The Photosynthetic Cycle. CO2 Dependent Transients, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1955, 77 (22), pp 5948–5957,  which has one of the most intricate apparatus drawing I’ve read in a paper.  It was drawn with such fine pensmanship that the electronic scan doesn’t reproduce it…

…and no one can tell what happens in the drawing.  So off to the library it is.  In the picture, archived to the left in black is our hundred-and-something years of JACS.  Flipping through the volumes is a blissful time-travel exercise of its own.  (Yup.  I’m dorky that way.)

From one of the weathered pages on the shelf we find the diagram and its awful secret.  Genteel readers: noticed anything out of place?

The full diagram as scanned. Anything unusual here?


Click for the Easter Egg

Yup.  In a landmark paper Wilson and Calvin inserted a xkcd-style stickman fishing, and got it past the editors.  How awesome is that?  :) 

IIRC I first read about this from The Name Game, a book that talks about origins of molecule names in organic chemistry.  It’s been a decade since I’ve seen the book, so I can’t check the source.  It’s an interesting book to browse through if you’re an organic chemist and want to get in touch with the colorful, Wild West’esque landscape of mid 20th-century chemists.  I made this post thinking that it would be useful to preserve this little fact for the internet age — particularly since this book was semi-rare and now out-of-print.

The xkcd connection was made by Opsomath.