TO FEB. 14, 2003

Recent exhibitions in the National Academy of Sciences’ main-floor gallery—notably Felice Frankel’s microscope-aided scientific photographs, Eric Heller’s computer-generated renderings of chaotic physical processes, and David Mann’s wave- and cell-inspired paintings—have blended an appreciation for the beauty of scientific patterns with an almost clinical respect for their irreducible algorithms. “On the Nature of Things: The Scientific Photography of Fritz Goro” decisively breaks that mold. Goro spent four decades as a photographer for Life magazine, documenting this turbulent past century’s scientific advances. While some of Goro’s images revel in the mathematical beauty of atomic orbitals, DNA helices, slowly migrating stars, and computer chips (pictured), others force the viewer to face life and death with stomach-churning frankness. Goro unblinkingly documents a cancerous growth in a rabbit’s eye, a chick with an experimental transplanted eye, and a rat with a walnutlike tumor growing from its head. Though the exhibition makes no mention of any political agenda, Goro’s photographs of fish eggs with well-developed eyes and images of minuscule yet recognizable cow fetuses surely bolster anti-abortion advocates. The picture that packs the biggest wallop, though, is probably the 1965 photograph of surgery being conducted on a prenatal monkey; the slight, closed-eyed fetus, covered in blood and fluid, looks as if it were made of melted, cherry-red wax. The exhibition makes clear that Goro—who visited the first nuclear ground zero with Manhattan Project bigwigs J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves at a time when it was still “hot”—had guts. It’s on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday to Friday, Feb. 14, 2003, and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 9, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C St. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)