Happy (Almost) Birthday Linus Pauling!

Cross-posted at Ether Wave Propaganda

Pauline, Linus and Lucile Pauling, 1908.

Pauline, Linus and Lucile Pauling, 1908.

Linus Pauling was born in Portland, Oregon on February 28, 1901, meaning that this coming Saturday will mark the 108th anniversary of his birth. (He died on August 19, 1994 at the age of 93)

Over the years, one of our annual habits around here has been to reflect back upon Pauling’s life at the time of his birthday anniversary, usually by highlighting his activities 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago.

Looking back in segments of twenty-five years is admittedly rather an arbitrary observance, but it can oftentimes prove to be very revealing. By choosing to study the effectively-random dates of, in this instance, 1909, 1934, 1959 and 1984, one is compelled to sample a broad period of time in Pauling’s life and, in the process, gain a sense of his remarkably-wide variety of interests. It is our belief that, as much as anything else, these broad horizons define Pauling’s legacy.

1909: Age 8

The Pauling family begins this year in Condon, Oregon, a small and isolated farming community some 150 miles east of Portland. Four years previous, Linus’s father, Herman, had moved the family to the dry side of the state in search of business opportunities. A drug store operator, Herman has been able to make a living meeting the pharmaceutical needs of the region’s farmers, ranchers and cowboys.

Neither Herman nor his wife, Belle, particularly care for the area, and in September, following a fire that guts the Condon store, the family decides to return to Portland. By the time the family settles, Linus has transferred into his third fourth-grade class of the term. A rather withdrawn little boy, by 1909 Linus has already developed keen interests in the scientific world. He is particularly enamored of insects and minerals, and will soon develop and classify collections of both. He is also a voracious reader with a particular taste for ancient history.

1934: Age 33

Dr. Linus Pauling is a full professor at the California Institute of Technology, a recipient of the A.C. Langmuir Prize (awarded by the American Chemical Society to the best young chemist in the nation) and a married father of three. He has already published a set of papers that revolutionized the modern understanding of structural chemistry and is now turning his attentions to biological topics, including the structure of hemoglobin. The hemoglobin work will prove to be of major importance and will eventually receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Jack Sherman and Linus Pauling, 1935.

Jack Sherman and Linus Pauling, 1935.

Pauling has not, however, lost his passion for more traditional structure determinations. In 1934 he and Maurice L. Huggins publish an important paper on the atomic characteristics of crystals containing electron-pair bonds. Pauling also supervises investigations of enargite, binnite and calcium boride. His collaborator in the calcium boride work is a young Ph.D. named Sidney Weinbaum who, sixteen years later, will be imprisoned for having perjured himself during a loyalty hearing.

1959: Age 58

He does not know it yet, but Pauling is nearing the end of his long association with the California Institute of Technology. The recipient of the 1954 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Pauling has made a decision to devote roughly half of his time to the world peace movement, a trend that proves increasingly troublesome to the Caltech regents.

In 1959 he delivers dozens of speeches on the perils of nuclear testing, the social ramifications of Cold War hysteria and the great immorality of war. He and his wife, Ava Helen, also spend the year traveling widely. They visit Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his medical compound in French Equitorial Africa; they contribute to the Fourth Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs in Baden, Austria; and they help draft the “Hiroshima Appeal,” issued in Japan by the Fifth World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling working on the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, 1957.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling working on the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, 1957.

Pauling’s first love is and always shall be science, and amidst his flurry of peace activism he is still able to make time for work in the laboratory. One of his more novel pursuits is a theory of anesthesia, which he begins researching in April 1959. Running a series of experiments that involve goldfish, among other subjects, Pauling theorizes that anesthetic agents form hydrate “cages” with properties similar to ice crystals. Owing to the nature of their molecular structure these “cages” serve to impede electrical impulses in the brain, thus leading to unconsciousness.

1984: Age 83

Pauling’s fascination with vitamin C is in full bloom and by now he has written and lectured on the subject widely — one of his seventeen publications issued in 1984 is a book chapter on the topic of vitamin C and pregnancy.

Two years removed, Pauling likewise continues to struggle with the death of Ava Helen, his wife of fifty-eight years. Increasingly he turns to highly theoretical scientific pursuits as a method for occupying his mind and coping with his grief. In tandem with his orthomolecular work, publication titles the likes of “Evidence from bond lengths and bond angles for enneacovalence of cobalt, rhodium, iridium, iron, ruthenium, and osmium in compounds with elements of medium electronegativity” come to dominate his curriculum vitae.

In 1984 Pauling receives the American Chemical Society’s most prestigious award, the Joseph Priestley Medal. That same year he and three other Nobel laureates (Adolfo Perez Esquivel, George Wald and Betty Williams) sail to Nicaragua to promote peace and democracy in Central America. Never one to mince words, Pauling tells an interviewer aboard the “Peace Ship” that “the people of the United States need to know what great immorality the Reagan government has been committing, through the CIA and by direct subsidy of the forces that are trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua by force and violence.”

Linus Pauling in Nicaragua, 1984.

Linus Pauling in Nicaragua, 1984.

Celebrate Pauling’s 108th birthday by visiting the Linus Pauling Online portal.

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2 Responses

  1. We at the online magazine Anderbo.com salute the accomplishments and living memory of Linus Pauling, and wish him “Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!” as we publish the short story “Linus Pauling, Linus Pauling” by Bennington College MFA student Leslie Maslow,
    http://www.anderbo.com/anderbo1/afiction-055.html

  2. Thank you!! This article totally helped me with my project(not to mention working on it the last minute. THE PAULING BLOG ROCKS!!!

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