Linus Pauling (February 28, 1901- )*, the only person who has won two undivided Nobel Prizes,1 was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of a pharmacist, Henry H.W. Pauling, and Lucy (Darling) Pauling. He attended Washington High School in Portland but because of a technicality did not receive his diploma until 1962, long after he had received his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State College in 1922, his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1925, and honorary degrees from universities in seven countries.
With the help of a National Research Council fellowship in 1925-1926 and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1926-1927, he studied with three physicists: Arnold Sommerfeld in Munich, Erwin Schrodinger in Zurich, and Niels Bohr in Copenhagen. From 1927 until 1964, he was a member of the professorial staff of California Institute of Technology, earning a reputation as a gifted teacher – articulate, enthusiastic, with a talent for simplification and a willingness to engage in controversy. For twenty-two of those thirty-seven years, he was chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, as well as director of the Gates and Crellin Laboratories of Chemistry.
From 1963 to 1967, Pauling was attached to the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara, California, as a research professor; from 1967 to 1969, he was a professor of chemistry at the University of California at San Diego; since 1969 he has been on the professorial staff of Stanford University.
From his graduate days until the mid-thirties, Pauling was interested primarily in physical chemistry, especially in molecular spatial configurations and their relevance to molecular behavior. In 1939 he published the results of over ten years of research in The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals. When he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1954, he was cited “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”
Pauling’s interest in the “behavior” of molecules led him from physical chemistry to biological chemistry, from an absorption in the architecture of molecules to their functioning, especially in the human body. He began with proteins and their main constituents, the amino acids, which are called the “building blocks of life.” He studied the abnormal in structure as well as the normal, even creating abnormalities in order to observe effects. From his creation of synthetic antibodies formed by altering molecules of globulin in the blood, came the development of a substitute for blood plasma.
In 1950 he constructed the first satisfactory model of a protein molecule, a discovery which has implications for the understanding of the living cell. He has studied and published papers on the effects of certain blood cell abnormalities, the relationship between molecular abnormality and heredity, the possible chemical basis of mental retardation, the functioning of anesthetics. Looking to the future, he said in the last edition of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, “We may ask what the next step in the search for an understanding of the nature of life will be. I think that it will be the elucidation of the nature of the electromagnetic phenomena involved in mental activity in relation to the molecular structure of brain tissue. I believe that thinking, both conscious and unconscious, and short-term memory involve electromagnetic phenomena in the brain, interacting with the molecular (material) patterns of long-term memory, obtained from inheritance or experience.”
Pauling’s latest chemical-medical-nutritional study has been published in a 1970 book entitled Vitamin C and the Common Cold, in which he maintains that the common cold can be controlled almost entirely in the United States and some other countries within a few years, through improvement of the nutrition of the people by an adequate intake of ascorbic acid [vitamin C].2
During World War II, Pauling participated in scientific enterprises deemed vital to the protection of the country. Early in the war he was a consultant to the explosives division of the National Defense Research Commission and from 1945 to 1946 a member of the Research Board for National Security. For his contributions, which included work on rocket propellants, on an oxygen deficiency indicator for pressurized space, such as that in submarines and aircraft, and on a substitute for human serum in medical treatment, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1948.
The use of the atomic bomb near the end of the war turned Pauling in a new direction. As one who had long worked on the structure of molecules, both normal and abnormal, on their behavior in the human body, and on their transmission through heredity, he took an immediate and intense interest in the potentially malignant effects of nuclear fallout on human molecular structures, as well as in the forces of blast and fire released by an exploding bomb. From the late forties on, Pauling, as a member of Einstein’s Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which was active from 1946 to 1950, as a supporter of many peace organizations, and as an individual, has waged a constant campaign against war and its now nuclear nature. He calculated estimates on the probable frequency of congenital deformity in future generations resulting from carbon 14 and radioactive fission products released by nuclear testing, and publicized them; protested the production of the hydrogen bomb; advocated the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons; promoted the banning of tests of nuclear weapons as a first step toward multilateral disarmament.3
In the early fifties and again in the early sixties, he encountered accusations of being pro-Soviet or Communist, allegations which he categorically denied. For a few years prior to 1954, he had restrictions placed by the Department of State on his eligibility to obtain a passport.
In 1958, on January 15, he presented to the UN the celebrated petition signed by 9,235 scientists from many countries in the world protesting further nuclear testing. In that same year he published No More War!, a book which presents the rationale for abandoning not only further use and testing of nuclear weapons but also war itself, and which proposes the establishment of a World Peace Research Organization within the structure of the UN to “attack the problem of preserving the peace”.
When the Soviet Union announced a resumption of nuclear testing in August, 1961, after the nuclear powers had voluntarily withheld testing for three years, Pauling redoubled his efforts to convince the Russian, American, and British leaders of the necessity of a test ban treaty. He spoke as a man of science. His intellectual position is summarized in a communication published in Harper’s Magazine4 in 1963: “I have said that my ethical principles have caused me to reach the conclusion that the evil of war should be abolished; but my conclusion that war must be abolished if the human race is to survive is based not on ethical principles but on my thorough and careful analysis, in relation to international affairs, of the facts about the changes that have taken place in the world during recent years, especially with respect to the nature of war.”
The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, outlawing all but underground nuclear testing, was signed in July, 1963, and went into effect on October 10, 1963, the same day on which the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Peace Prize reserved in the year 1962 was to be awarded to Linus Pauling.
The Atomic Age: Scientists in National and World Affairs, edited and with Introductions by Morton Grodzins and Eugene Rabinowitch. New York, Basic Books, 1963. This collection of articles from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1945-1962, includes two by Harry Kalven, Jr., on Pauling’s Congressional hearings (pp. 466-493), as well as some articles by various scientists referred to in the presentation and lecture.
Biological and Environment Effects of Nuclear War. Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, June 22-26, 1959. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1959.
Current Biography Yearbook. New York, H.W. Wilson, 1964.
Gilpin, Robert, American Scientists and Nuclear Weapons Policy. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1962.
Jacobson, Harold Karan, and Eric Stein, Diplomats, Scientists, and Politicians: The United States and the Nuclear Test Ban Negotiations. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1966.
Jungk, Robert, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists [Heller als tausend Sonnen], translated by James Cleugh. New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958.
The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man. 2 vols. Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, May 27-June 7, 1957. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, I957
Pauling, Linus, The Architecture of Molecules. With Roger Hayward. San Francisco, Freeman, 1964.
1. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1954 and the Peace Prize for 1962. Marie S. Curie won the Prize in Chemistry for 1911 and shared the Prize in Physics for 1903.
2. The book won the I971 PBK Book Award in Literature of Science.
3. Detailed accounts of Pauling’s activities in connection with the effort to secure an international agreement to ban nuclear testing are given in the presentation speech and in the Nobel lecture.
4. Harper’s Magazine, 226 (May, 1963) 6.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Linus Pauling died on August 19, 1994.
Nobel Prizes and laureates
See them all presented here.