During its four-decade run, from the late 1930s to early 1970s, as one of the world’s premier weekly magazines, LIFE covered an utterly dizzying array of people and events. Best-known, of course, for its photographs and articles on World War II, the Space Race, the Vietnam War, Camelot, pop-culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and Sinatra and other major issues and world figures, from the very first LIFE also opened its pages to coverage of science and technology.
Staff photographers like Fritz Goro, Andreas Feininger, Yale Joel, J.R. Eyerman and others were justly celebrated for finding new and creative ways to illustrate the often-esoteric breakthroughs — and the scientists and engineers — transforming the world in the middle part of the last century. Often the magazine’s treatment of these issues and people was unreservedly admiring; at other times, LIFE cast a more skeptical eye on new developments, inventions and areas of research. But no matter how wry or laudatory its voice, the magazine’s ability to bring seemingly “unphotographable” concepts to light always helped to further the conversation around everything from space travel and atomic energy to the minuscule workings of human cells.
Here, LIFE.com presents a selection of photographs by some of history’s most innovative photographers — pictures that encompass the bizarre, heady and often beautiful worlds of science and technology as seen in the pages of LIFE.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.