Pauling’s Induction into the Soviet Academy of Sciences

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On June 20, 1958, in the midst of the Cold War and almost exactly 25 years after being inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, Linus Pauling was unanimously approved for inclusion in the Akademia Nauk (Academy of Sciences) of the USSR. Founded in 1724 during the reign of Peter the Great and charged with conducting national research and overseeing scientific publications, the Academy had attained a position of major importance in Soviet society and its domestic members were among the highest paid individuals in the communist country.

Though often critical of Soviet leaders, Pauling never had any qualms about engaging in scientific exchanges with Russian scientists, even during the frostiest years of U.S-Soviet tensions. In one particular instance, a year prior to being honored by the Soviet Academy, Pauling had extended invitations to two of its members to visit Caltech and deliver lectures on their current research. At the time however, the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas had both been closed “to anybody holding a Russian passport,” and the scientific invitees were unable to accept Pauling’s offer.

In response, Pauling made a point of criticizing the U.S. Department of State, claiming that its policies ran counter to a recent commitment by the federal government to increase “freer exchange of information and ideas,” to push that “all censorship [be] progressively eliminated” and to “further exchanges of persons in the professional, cultural, scientific and technical fields.”


Pauling’s award notification from the Academy expressed “the hope that your election as a foreign member will promote further strengthening of the bonds between scientists of the USA and the Soviet Union.” And while Pauling accepted the offer warmly, others cast a very skeptical eye toward his embrace of this particular decoration.

While the responsibilities of his membership were purely honorary and the Academy insisted that he was being recognized for his scientific accomplishments, many media outlets, including the New York Times, suspected that the decision had been politically motivated. In his response, Pauling noted that the Soviets “have been strongly critical of my work in the past,” pointing out in particular that, in 1951, the Academy had deemed his theory of resonance to be “reactionary” and “bourgeois.” In the years since, Pauling supposed that the Soviets had “learned that you can’t mix politics up with science.”

Pauling was well-aware that his acceptance of the Academy’s nomination would garner criticism, but for him it was worth it to take a stand in favor of academic freedom. In a statement to the Associated Press, Pauling affirmed his strong belief “in the importance of improving international relations in every way” and expressed enthusiasm at the idea of “becoming better acquainted with the scientists in the USSR.” The letters of congratulation that he received from his colleagues indicate that this point of view was shared by many.


Pauling did not travel to the Soviet Union to accept his award, but he did address the topic of his membership in several lectures that he delivered during the summer of 1958. One talk, delivered at Antioch College on the day of his nomination, used the honor as a rhetorical starting point for a deeper discussion of a path toward reducing the risk of nuclear was. In this, Pauling emphasized that the United Nations must be strengthened, that nuclear weapons tests must cease, and that the world choose to recognize the communist government in China.

The president of Antioch College sent Pauling a follow-up letter indicating that the local media had mostly accepted Pauling’s ideas on merit, though the Dayton Daily had refused to report on the event at all due to Pauling’s membership in the Soviet Academy.


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In addition to Pauling, one other American was added to the Soviet Academy in 1958. Detlev Bronk, a well-known and accomplished scientist, had also served as president of Johns Hopkins University from 1948-1953. During this time he created the Hopkins Plan, a successful approach to student advancement that emphasized allowing undergraduates to choose their own rate of progression through their course of study.

Bronk and Pauling were also friends who corresponded with one another about issues both personal and professional well before their induction into the Academy. Their bond had been formed by shared scientific interests, but also by a similar worldview. Notably, Bronk had shown himself to be a defender of academic liberty by speaking out in favor of a professor who had been accused by Senator Joseph McCarthy of communist involvement in the early 1950s.

Another relevant and significant name from this time period was Bruno Pontecorvo, who was  inducted into the Academy alongside Pauling in 1958. Pontecorvo, a highly regarded Italian-born physicist, was living in the US and working on atomic research when he disappeared in 1950. Considered missing for several years, Pontecorvo eventually appeared on Soviet television, at which point it was understood that he had defected. Moreover, it later became clear that the scientist had risen to a position of authority within the Soviet nuclear development program.

Confirmation of Pontecorvo’s defection came as a shock, and some feared that Pauling would follow in his footsteps. Needless to say, this did not come to pass. Pontecorvo, on the other hand, remained in the USSR and worked under the Russian flag until his death in 1993.

 

Pauling’s Induction into the National Academy of Sciences

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Since its formation in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has been a home of sorts for the country’s (and a few of the world’s) most distinguished scientists, and on April 26, 1933, at the age of 32 years and 2 months, Linus Pauling became the youngest current member of the group. Pauling was accepted into this distinguished body for his contributions to many scientific fields, but most significantly chemistry. And though he was still early in his career, his induction served as validation of his scientific excellence while also reflecting the growing global influence of his research and writing.


The NAS was established by an act of Congress during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and was charged with playing a central role in advancing the nation’s scientific research agenda and in communicating with policymakers about applying scientific breakthroughs to improve the lives of Americans. Induction into the Academy was, and remains, out of reach for all but the most accomplished of researchers. Membership has also always come with responsibilities: at the time of his induction, Pauling was made to understand that he was obligated to respond to every Academy summons and to “serve the government without expectation of compensation.”

At the time that Pauling joined, there were 265 NAS members (as of 2018 there are nearly 500), only two of whom were women. Forty-four members hailed from other countries including Canada and several European nations. Within the U.S., the NAS made it a priority to pull members from every region of the country, and also urged states that had not been home to any members – states including Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, and Nevada among others – to produce more prominent scientists. By 1933, Pauling’s birth state, Oregon, had only produced one member (Pauling) whereas the state in which he lived, California, was home to forty-five residing members.

In addition to diversifying the geographic reach of its membership, the Academy also sought to bring in more younger faces. It had several reasons for doing so. For one, younger members were more likely to spark a connection with high school and college-age students across the country who might eventually grow into the scientific leaders of tomorrow. Of equal or greater importance was the fact that, amidst the ravages of the Depression, the Academy required energy, enthusiasm and creativity to keep itself moving forward, and younger scientists were seen as more likely to bring that about.

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Pasadena Post, September 27, 1933

Of the 265 Academy members in Pauling’s cohort, 159 were older than 60, and 58 had reached the age of 70 or more. The average age of new inductees was 49 (45 for chemists) and the typical age of an NAS member was 62. While the youngest inductee ever, Edward C. Pickering (1846-1919), was about six years younger than Pauling when he was elected in 1873, he had long since passed away by the date of Pauling’s inclusion. Indeed, by 1933, only three members of the NAS were under 40 years of age, so Pauling certainly stuck out.

Though Pauling ticked the boxes of a younger member who represented, if obliquely, a new part of the country, his selection was clearly predicated on merit. Pauling’s research program at the time included work that would soon become legendary. By using x-ray diffraction techniques to determine the structure of crystals, he had made great headway toward unraveling the mysteries of molecular structure, and in 1933 he published his fifth, sixth, and seventh papers in his epic series on the nature of the chemical bond. The import of these publications was quickly recognized by his peers, and when Pauling was added to the Academy he was the only selection made for the Chemistry section.


Along with much of the rest of the country, the academy that Pauling joined was struggling mightily during terrible economic times. Wrestling with an onslaught of major problems, many cash-strapped legislators were, in the words of NAS President W.W. Campbell, “unsympathetic and severely hostile” to the idea of maintaining federal funding for scientific research. Campbell argued forcefully on behalf of maintaining the support for the NAS, suggesting that

…the products of research and invention in the domain of the physical and biological sciences have been more potent in advancing the state of civilization on the earth from its low level of the fifteenth century to its high level in the twentieth century than have all other forces combined.

Fortunately for the Academy, fears that cuts in funding would relegate American universities to the status of “higher high schools” prevailed, and the NAS was allocated $250,000 to distribute to researchers during the 1933 fiscal year.

As time moved forward, the country stabilized and so did the Academy. And for a period after the war, the NAS also nearly played a very influential role in Pauling’s life. In 1947 he was nominated to serve as president of the group and fully intended to pursue this opportunity, but was compelled to remove his name from consideration when he was named Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford University for that same year. A year later, Pauling ran successfully for the presidency of the American Chemical Society and occupied that office in the NAS’s stead.

The Gibbs Medal

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On June 14, 1946, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to Chicago to attend a dinner recognizing Linus Pauling as the thirty-fifth recipient of the Josiah Willard Gibbs Medal, an award given annually to the most prominent chemists and chemical engineers in the world. The Gibbs Medal was the second major prize bestowed upon Pauling by the American Chemical Society, coming some fifteen years after his receipt of the Irving Langmuir Prize in 1931.

By 1946 Pauling was widely considered to be among the world’s leading theoretical chemists. At just forty-five years old, he had already published more than 150 papers as well as three books. His connection to the American Chemical Society was strong as well. A member since 1920 – he joined before completing his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Oregon Agricultural College – Pauling was also a regular contributor to the Journal of the American Chemical Society. So it came as little surprise that the Chicago section chose to honor Pauling with the Gibbs Medal. And in receiving the award, Pauling entered into truly elite company, joining other greats including his Caltech mentor A. A. Noyes (1915), as well as Madame Marie Curie (1921), current ACS President Moses Gomberg (1925), and the namesake of his previous ACS prize, Irving Langmuir (1930).


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J. Willard Gibbs

The Gibbs Medal was established in 1910 by William A. Converse, a former chair of the Chicago section of the American Chemical Society. Converse greatly admired Josiah Willard Gibbs and considered him to be “an outstanding example of creativity in the field of scientific investigation.”

Gibbs (1839-1903) was an American mathematical physicist based at Yale University who made important theoretical contributions to multiple scientific disciplines and who helped to form the idea of intersectional science through his studies in physical chemistry. However, many of his contributions were not fully appreciated during his lifetime, and it wasn’t until later that his impact became more broadly recognized. Gibbs is now considered to be the “father of vector analysis” and his most significant work, On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances, is well-known in the scientific world.


Though he won the medal in 1946, Pauling had actually been nominated several times before. On three occasions (1941, 1942 and 1946), these nominations precluded Pauling from carrying out a duty for which he had been selected: serving as a jury committee member for the Gibbs Award.

Nominations for the award were solicited by the jury committee each September. Once a pool had been compiled, the group would then proceed through several rounds of voting until just one nominee remained. This individual would receive the award from the Chicago section in the following spring. The jury was composed of twelve eminent chemists and chemical engineers enlisted from various regional groups of the American Chemical Society. In the year that Pauling was elected, the chairman of the committee was Dr. Henry R. Spruth.

Interestingly, Pauling’s role in the process of nominating and electing new recipients of the Gibbs Medal did not end after he won. The by-laws governing the selection of recipients state that, in cases where at least eight of the twelve members of the jury cannot arrive at a consensus, “the Chairman shall secure the vote of the past Medalists residing in North America on the two or more remaining candidates” in order to decide on a single recipient. Up until his death in 1994, Pauling was regularly asked to contribute a vote to resolve situations of this type.


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At the Chicago dinner, Pauling was presented the Gibbs Medal by W. Albert Noyes, Jr. A photochemist at the University of Rochester, Noyes was also president-elect of the ACS for 1946. In his introduction of Pauling, Noyes recited the long list of accomplishments that had led up to this moment:

…for eminent work and original contributions in chemistry and related scientific fields through the determination of many molecular structures, inter-atomic distances, bond angles and covalent radii of atoms; for quantitation of the classical theory of electronegativity; for extension and application of the resonance principle to chemistry; and for formulation of a framework theory of antibody formation. We honor Linus Pauling!

Pauling then delivered his acceptance address. Having penned multiple drafts in anticipation of the event, Pauling ultimately decided that, since he was being given the award primarily for his contributions to structural chemistry, he would focus mostly on this topic. He began his address by providing a survey of advancements in the field, beginning with Lucretius who, about 2,000 years before, had written that

wine flows easily because its particles are smooth and round and roll easily over one another, whereas the sluggish olive oil hangs back because it is composed of particles more hooked and entangled one with another.

From there, Pauling moved forward through a series of discoveries made by more contemporary scientists, each one building upon the next.

He then arrived at his own work which, by then, had touched on components of physics, mineralogy, chemistry, and biology, but had always followed one common ambition: the desire to truly understand the structure of the molecule. In particular, Pauling had made great use of x-ray diffraction and absorption spectroscopy techniques to advance his studies. He concluded his speech with a call to scientists everywhere that they apply the the theoretical breakthroughs that structural chemists had made in the first half of the twentieth century to the search for solutions to “such great practical problems as those presented by cancer and cardiovascular disease.”


Pauling was a popular pick for the Gibbs Award. Not long after delivering his banquet address, he received a letter from a colleague, Emory University professor William H. Jones, in which he added “my congratulations to the mound of fan mail” and asked “How does it feel to be a Cover Boy for the New Edition?”

Jones wasn’t wrong about the mountain of mail — Pauling received scores of congratulatory letters from colleagues, friends, former students and professors, and random strangers alike. The sentiment expressed by nearly all of these well-wishers was aptly summarized by fellow Gibbs laureate Moses Gomberg, who had presented Pauling with the Langmuir Prize in 1931. “He has grown by leaps and bounds – and is still young!,” he wrote. “My congratulations and wishes to him!”

[Ed Note: This is the 700th post published by the Pauling Blog.]

The Langmuir Award

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In 1931 Linus Pauling was early on in his career as a professor at the California Institute of Technology, and was deep into a program of research on structural chemistry that would prove revolutionary. Pauling was one of the brightest young minds that Caltech had seen to date, and the announcement that Pauling was to receive the inaugural Irving Langmuir Prize from the American Chemical Society served as further evidence of his extraordinary abilities. The first major award received by Pauling as an academic, the Langmuir Prize would be followed by countless additional decorations honoring a long and storied career.

The Irving Langmuir Prize, also known as the Pure Chemistry of the American Chemical Society Prize, was created by A.C. Langmuir, an industrial engineer who manufactured shellac and glycerine. First announced in early 1931, the $1,000 award was meant to serve as a form of encouragement and support for young chemists in the United States. The decision to honor Linus Pauling as the initial recipient of the award was made by a select committee of American Chemical Society members.


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Irving Langmuir

A.C. Langmuir named the prize after his brother, Irving, a renowned scientist who would receive the Nobel Chemistry Prize in 1932 for his work in surface chemistry. In addition to his status as a Nobel laureate, Langmuir is today remembered by many for developing light bulbs that were more efficient and longer lasting than the Nernst Lamp model that had previously dominated the marketplace.

While Pauling no doubt appreciated Irving Langmuir’s practical work, his theoretical contributions made a far more profound impact on the budding young scientist, who began reading Langmuir’s papers while still an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College. As he noted in 1946,

I became deeply interested in molecular structure and the nature of the chemical bond in 1919, when I first read [G.N.] Lewis’ 1916 paper and Irving Langmuir’s papers on this subject.

One 1919 paper proved especially important. In it, Langmuir discussed his application of G.N. Lewis’ insights into chemical bonding and his observation that pairs of electrons can be shared by atoms in many substances. Importantly, Langmuir also used the article to put forth the idea that a full understanding of the chemical bond could not be arrived at through the simple application of a chemist’s or physicist’s training. Rather, the problem required a marriage of the two disciplines.

Titled “The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules” and published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Langmuir’s paper served as an inspiration to Pauling, who did indeed marry aspects of chemistry and physics in elucidating a new theoretical understanding of the chemical bond.

Twelve years later, Pauling was hard at work on several research projects that were driven by this stroke of inspiration. Most notably, Pauling had recently authored his landmark article “The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Application of Results Obtained from the Quantum Mechanics and from the Theory of Paramagnetic Susceptibility to the Structure on Molecules,” the first in a series of significant papers on the structure of the molecules. By the time that Pauling received his ACS award in September, he had already released the third installment in the series. Taking note of this dizzying array of productivity, Scientific American dubbed Pauling the “explorer of electrons” in a 1931 article.


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Humorous editorial cartoon published in the “Double Bond Jr.,” a publication circulated at the Buffalo ACS meeting in September 1931.

Pauling was nominated for the Langmuir Prize by his Caltech mentor, A.A. Noyes. The director of the Gates Chemical Laboratory and a respected member of the American Chemical Society, Noyes’ views carried significant weight with his peers, and in his nomination letter of June 8, 1931, Noyes described Pauling as “the most promising young man with whom I have ever come in contact in my many years of teaching.” This hearty endorsement, combined with Pauling’s vita – which already listed more than fifty published papers – made the decision an easy one for the award committee.

Pauling, with his wife Ava Helen, received the prize on September 2, 1931 in Buffalo, New York. At the ceremony, A.C. Langmuir praised the body of work that Pauling had already compiled and accurately predicted that he would one day be a Nobel Prize winner. The Langmuir decoration proved to be a source of significant attention for Pauling. In one of a bevy of congratulatory letters that followed, former classmate W.E. Ramsey noted that “I knew you were a genius because you could solve my calculus problems which were always a mystery to me.” Likewise, University of Chicago chemist Thorfin Hogness recounted that he expected Pauling would win the award as soon as it was introduced.

In addition to raising Pauling’s profile, the financial support provided by the Langmuir Prize was especially significant as the United States was entering into the worst years of the Great Depression. Indeed, the $1,000 award that came with the prize was equivalent to a quarter of Pauling’s annual salary. Today, in recognition of its namesake’s interdisciplinary focus, the Irving Langmuir Prize is granted alternately by the American Chemical Society and the American Physical Society. Recipients now receive a cash award of $10,000.

As time moved forward, Pauling remained very active within the American Chemical Society, serving as president of the organization in 1949. He would also win several additional major awards offered by the ACS, including the Josiah Willard Gibbs Medal in 1946. So too did Pauling receive a great many decorations from regional chapters of the organization. In 1966, he was the recipient of perhaps the most noteworthy of these awards when the Oregon and Puget Sound sections presented him with the first Linus Pauling Medal for outstanding achievement in chemistry.

 

James LuValle, the Olympic Chemist

“Mr. LuValle has made an excellent record in his graduate work with us. He is classed in the upper group of our graduate students, despite the fact that the graduate students are very carefully selected and have in general great ability.”

–Linus Pauling, December 1938

James Ellis LuValle, known for his Olympic prowess as well as his contributions to the field of photochemistry, was born on November 10, 1912. LuValle, who would later come under the academic tutelage of Linus Pauling, showed promise in the classroom at an early age and developed an interest in chemistry not long after.

The same year that LuValle completed his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, he also competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Competing alongside famed teammate Jessie Owens, LuValle was one of a handful of African Americans to participate in a games dominated by Adolf Hitler and the ascendant Nazi party.

LuValle had been a track star during his undergraduate years at UCLA, and during the Olympic Trials he clocked a personal best of 46.3 in the 400 meters. While competing in Germany, he posted the meet’s best qualifying times but finished third in the final, crossing the line at 46.8, just 0.3 seconds behind Archie Williams of the United States and Godfrey Brown of Great Britain.

LuValle, at right, finishing third in the 400 meters at the 1936 Berlin games.


While LuValle was appreciative of his experiences as an athlete, he always prioritized his scientific education. Notably, when considering his undergraduate options, LuValle turned down football and track scholarships to USC and Notre Dame on the premise that the sports programs at the two institutions had too much say in the academic arena.

Upon returning to the United States following the Berlin games, LuValle received good news: he had been accepted into a graduate program at UCLA and would be supported by an assistantship. Within a year, LuValle finished the curriculum and completed his thesis, “Photochemistry of Crotonaldeyhde at Elevated Temperatures.” During this period, LuValle also pushed the university’s Graduate Students Association to broaden its representation, and the organization was later integrated into the university’s student association, ASUCLA.

Eager to continue his education, LuValle applied to doctoral programs at Wisconsin, Harvard, and the California Institute of Technology. With support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund already in hand, Caltech’s offer of a teaching assistantship was all that LuValle needed to decide to move across town. He began his Ph.D. work under Pauling’s guidance in 1937 and is now believed to have been the first African American graduate student to enroll at Caltech.

While university assistantships were certainly nice, the Rosenwald Fund was key to LuValle’s pursuit of an advanced education. Established in 1917, the fund provided support to two categories of applicants: (1) African Americans, and (2) white Southerners who wished to work on a problem distinctive to the South and who expected to also build their careers in the South. The scholarship was open to men and women between the ages of 22 and 35.

While the fund was typically awarded for a single year and offered a stipend of $1,500, renewal was sometimes granted in exceptional cases, and LuValle certainly fit that mold. Ultimately he received a Rosenwald scholarship for both the 1937-38 and 1938-39 school years; by his own reckoning, he would not have been able to complete his doctoral training without this support.


While at Caltech, LuValle took several courses taught by Pauling, who had already risen to a high level of prominence within the academy. (LuValle later admitted to worshiping him during this time.) Pauling guided and mentored LuValle throughout his three-year “theoretical and experimental attack on the problem of resonance in conjugated unsaturated organic molecules containing oxygen.” Pauling viewed the project as very promising and was confident in his student’s ability to carry out the research.

In 1940 LuValle completed his Caltech Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry while also claiming a minor in Mathematics. His dissertation, titled “An Electron Diffraction Investigation of Several Unsaturated Conjugated Molecules,” detailed his research on the structure and deeper function of vinyl ether and oxalyl chloride, two important compounds that, at the time, had not been satisfactorily investigated. In his study of these two molecules, LuValle concluded that the conjugating power of two carbon-oxygen double bonds was equivalent to the conjugating power of two carbon-carbon double bonds.

LuValle’s laboratory work also revealed that thermolysis investigations could be conducted at much lower temperatures than had been used previously. In his Caltech research journal – which is now deposited in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers – LuValle likewise proposed a new slate of investigations using x-ray and denaturation techniques to study the structure of proteins.

Following U.S. entry into World War II, LuValle was invited by a member of the National Defense Research Committee to join a group of scientists who were actively working to develop a suite of weapons for near-term use. LuValle felt that his potential contributions to these efforts were absolutely necessary to helping insure the safety of the American people during World War II. In 1942 LuValle also returned briefly to Caltech to work with Pauling on war-related research, the nature of which neither was permitted to disclose. Based on his previous collaborations with Pauling, it is likely that LuValle contributed to the development of the blood plasma substitute oxypolygelatin, which was one of many government-funded projects that Pauling led during the war years.


After leaving Caltech for the second time, LuValle maintained a regular correspondence with his former mentor, discussing current research, ideas for the future, and personal matters as well. Pauling, who addressed LuValle as “Jimmy,” wrote many letters of recommendation for his former student, describing him as “reliable, industrious and conscientious,” blessed with an agreeable personality, and likely to “become a very useful member of a scientific organization.”

It did not take long for LuValle to find work. He landed first at Fisk University, a Historically Black College located in Nashville, Tennessee. However, he was quickly disappointed to discover how underdeveloped the Chemistry department was and also to learn that Fisk was facing major budget cuts for the following year. The school was eager to keep LuValle and offered him a raise in pay – from an annual salary of $1,800 to $1,900 – to stay, but LuValle ultimately decided to move north to Rochester, New York in order to work for the Eastman Kodak Company. Eastman Kodak proved to be a good fit, and during his time there LuValle made many significant advancements in the field of photochemistry.

In the years that followed, LuValle bounced back and forth between academia and the private sector as he pursued a wide array of career opportunities. Following Eastman Kodak, he worked as a lecturer at Brandeis University, and later conducted research at Technical Operations Inc., Fairchild Space and Defense Systems, Microstatics Laboratory, and the Palo Alto Research Center.

Pauling continued to support LuValle throughout all of these changes, writing letters of recommendation that commended his friendliness, industry, and willingness to work with everyone, and making particular note of his facility in the lab and his skill as an instructor. In these letters, Pauling often wrote that LuValle had compared favorably with a group of “extraordinary students” who had also attended Caltech during his years of association.


For the decade leading up to his retirement in 1984, LuValle served as Director of Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratories at Stanford University, a position that allowed him to develop summer programs for students of color interested in scientific fields. In 1987 he was nominated for the Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award by a Stanford colleague, chemistry professor David Mason, who lauded LuValle’s contributions to the field of photochemistry. In his nomination letter, Mason noted that

During the War and through 1953, [LuValle] was a top flight Chemist at Eastman Kodak and his research led to many innovations in the development and perfection of Kodachrome and Kodacolor processes. He holds important basic patents in the applied photochemical field together with Eastman Kodak.

Once again, Linus Pauling was happy to contribute a secondary letter of support for his former student, who would ultimately receive the award alongside four other prominent Caltech alumni: Morris Muskat (Gulf Oil Company), Stanley Pace (General Dynamics Corporation), Alvin Trivelpace (U.S. Department of Energy) and John Waugh (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).


On January 30, 1993, James LuValle passed away, the victim of a heart attack suffered in Te Anau, New Zealand. At the time of his death, LuValle was on holiday with his wife, Jean – a fellow chemist – and his three children, John, Michael, and Phyllis, all of whom pursued careers in the sciences. Over the course of his career, LuValle published about thirty-five technical papers and came to hold eight patents, and his legacy as an Olympian and major figure in photochemistry is utterly unique. Today, the campus student center at UCLA is known as the James E. LuValle Commons, in recognition of LuValle’s career and his contributions to student life at his alma mater.

Evolution and the Need for Ascorbic Acid

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Linus Pauling, 1970

Linus Pauling’s belief in the value of vitamin C emerged from many sources, but key among them was the fact that humans, for most of their history, have been unable to produce their own ascorbic acid. This stands in stark contrast to nearly every other animal, virtually all of whom are able to synthesize their own ascorbic acid internally. Pauling viewed this human characteristic as having emerged from an evolutionary adaptation that, in his view, had sentenced modern humans to lives of sub-optimal health.

In December 1970, Pauling detailed this point of view in an article titled “Evolution and the Need for Ascorbic Acid,” which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, Pauling began by stating that the minimum daily requirements then espoused for vitamin C – 35 mg for an infant and 60 mg for an adult – were only enough to stave off scurvy and remained grossly insufficient to supporting ideal human functioning. In so doing, Pauling framed the onset of scurvy as not just the first symptom of low ascorbic acid levels, but rather the last symptom before death.

Pauling then pointed out that, along with the guinea pig, the Indian fruit-eating bat, and an early ancestor of the Passeriformes bird, humans are among a tiny minority of the world’s animals who are incapable of synthesizing their own ascorbic acid. The question is, why?


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Table 1 (excerpted) from Pauling’s 1970s PNAS article.

Pauling took an evolutionary view as he searched for an answer. In his article, he began by defining the eobiontic period – a two to three billion year period after the “hot thin soup” era – as a phase characterized by profound biochemical evolution. It was during this time period, about 25 million years ago, where Pauling believed that humans lost the ability to self-produce ascorbic acid.

To demonstrate how this might have happened, Pauling detailed a similar circumstance with thiamine, which is also an essential nutrient for mammals. At some point during the eobiontic period, certain species also began to lose their ability to synthesize thiamine and many researchers, including Pauling, believed that this was because “the supply of food available to an earlier ancestor provided an adequate supply of these vitamins, enough to make it advantageous to discard the mechanism for synthesizing them.” According to the theory, those species that did not discard this mechanism were disadvantaged because maintaining synthetic production became a burden. “[I]t cluttered up the cells,” Pauling wrote, “added to the body weight, and used energy that could be better used for other purposes.”

Pauling believed that the abundant availability of foods rich in vitamin C also led humans to evolve away from synthesizing ascorbic acid. Pauling listed 110 of these foods in a table within his article. They included sweet red peppers, sweet green peppers, hot red chili peppers, parsley, black currants, and broccoli spears among many others.


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Irwin Stone. (Image by Oscar Falconi)

Pauling also examined the research of three colleagues to add support for his theory: British researcher G.H. Bourne, American biochemist Irwin Stone, and American physician Edmé Régnier. Pauling looked to these three in particular to try and calibrate the level of ascorbic acid intake that would result in ideal human functioning.

In 1949, G.H. Bourne conducted a study focusing on the diets of gorillas and found that they consumed nearly 4.5 g of ascorbic acid per day through green foods. The variety of foods consumed by gorillas was also deemed by Bourne to be similar to that likely consumed by humans prior to the development of agriculture. By comparing the diets of the two, as well as their proportional body weights, Bourne determined that contemporary humans should strive to consume closer to 1 or 2 grams of ascorbic acid per day, rather than the the 7 to 30 mg recommended at the time.

Later, in the mid-1960s, Irwin Stone performed a set of experiments with a similar aim. After discovering that the daily rate of vitamin C synthesis for rats ranged from 26 mg kg-1 to 58 mg kg-1, Stone determined that the best intake of ascorbic acid for optimum human health was between 1.8 g to 4.1 g per day – the levels that individuals of varying sizes would produce if the rat synthesis rate were scaled accordingly.

Only a couple years after Stone released his hypothesis, Edmé Régnier produced his own theory that settled on a regiment of 5 g of ascorbic acid per day. Further, after several trials in which Régnier administered varying amounts of ascorbic acid to study participants, Régnier concluded that 45 out of 50 colds had been prevented by doses of 600 mg of ascorbic acid. Not long after, Pauling would write a book that did much to popularize the use of vitamin C in the treatment and prevention of the common cold.


After considering the research of the previous three scientists as well as conducting trials of his own, Pauling theorized that optimal human intake of ascorbic acid likely ranged from 2.3 g to 9.5 g. Pauling’s minimum recommendation was 2.3 g because that was the average amount of ascorbic acid provided by the 110 natural foods listed in his table. Likewise, Pauling deduced that the amount required to achieve optimal health would not exceed 9.5 g, because that was the high-end total available through a smaller selection of foods described in the same table.

Pauling also recognized the importance of biochemical individuality, age, size, and gender, and considered all of these factors in publishing his 2.3 g to 9.5 g range. He likewise took comfort in knowing that his conclusions were similar to those of Stone and Bourne, and this corpus of research convinced Pauling, for the remainder of his life, that vitamin C was an essential key to achieving optimal health.

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