The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling

Pauling's NDRC authorization papers permitting work on explosives in warfare. May 1, 1944.

In attempting to gain a grasp on the details of Linus Pauling’s long and complicated life, one might choose to view it in terms of decades. In the 1920s, he was coming into his own as a researcher. In the 1930s, he established himself as a world-class chemist. The 1950s encapsulated his work with biochemistry, DNA, and molecular disease and the 1960s marked the height of his peace work.

In early 2009, we began to examine a set of activities that were integral to Pauling and countless other scientists during the 1940s:  his role as a military researcher for the United States government during World War II.

One of his largest projects, the creation of a blood plasma substitute, became fodder for a blog series that garnered significant interest from our readership. During the creation of the Oxypolygelatin write-ups, it became clear that Pauling’s contribution to the Allied cause during the war was enough to merit a more thorough exploration and a more rigorous project than a series of blog posts.

Between the summers of 2009 and 2010, the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections staff examined thousands of pages of technical documents, handwritten notes, correspondence, photographs, and diagrams relating to Pauling’s work for the U.S. government from 1940-1945. This ultimately resulted in the creation of The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling, the fifth entry in our Documentary History website series.

The centerpiece of this website is a forty-seven page narrative which explores Pauling’s life and work during World War II. The narrative is accompanied by photographs and illustrations, hundreds of pages of documents and letters, audio files, information on a selection of Pauling’s important colleagues, and a detailed day-by-day account of his activities during the war.

Over the next four weeks, we will explore Pauling’s contributions to the war effort through his work with propellants and explosives, invisible inks, gaseous mixture detection, penicillin, hydrogen peroxide, and the entrenchment of post-war research funding. For more information on this work, the Manhattan Project, and Pauling’s personal life during World War II, please visit The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling.

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