The Guggenheim Foundation Advisory Board and Committee of Selection

Ava Helen and Linus peeking through a train window, Spring 1938.

Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation

Over the course of a decade reading Linus Pauling’s opinions on several Guggenheim Fellowship applicants, Henry Allen Moe, Secretary of the Guggenheim Foundation, developed a good sense of Pauling’s capabilities in judging the work and potential of his peers. At the same time, the two increasingly became friends, with Pauling visiting Moe several times while in New York and Moe staying with the Paulings during journeys to California. Their relationship during this period is nicely summed up in a 1934 letter from Moe requesting Pauling’s comments on an application. In it, he wrote

I realize the burden my questions place upon you and I am deeply appreciative of the quality of advice you give us. Whether you talk of Foundation policy or of quality in the applicant, I am delighted to get what you have to say.

In that same letter, Moe invited Linus and Ava Helen to his home for dinner.

Pauling’s increasingly close professional and personal relationship with Moe no doubt played a part in the Foundation’s 1939 offer of a four-year appointment to its Advisory Board. Pauling immediately accepted and thus joined a group containing literary scholar Marjorie Nicholson, geographer Carl O. Sauer, physicist Arthur H. Compton, and humanist Howard Mumford Jones. Moe later confided to Pauling that the Trustees had wanted to extend the invitation for quite a while, but there had been no openings. Once on the Board, the Trustees asked Pauling to re-up four more times, leading him to serve for twenty years in total.


Henry Allen Moe to Linus Pauling, December 23, 1939

Pauling’s initial enthusiasm at being named to the Board was briefly stifled when Moe told him that there would be no annual meeting that year. But something big was just around the corner. The following month, as Pauling sent his advisory reports on physics applicants, Moe wrote with more news from the Trustees. This time they wanted Pauling to be a member of the Committee of Selection, a position charged with choosing Fellows in all areas covered by the Foundation’s purview.

Moe warned that the job would require a lot of commitment and reading; and indeed, more than 1,600 applicants submitted proposals during Pauling’s first year. To make the task more manageable, Moe created summary digests of all the applications for the committee to review. Whether or not this was a necessary step for Pauling to sign on is unknown, but he was clearly excited by the opportunity and accepted the offer promptly. (Ava Helen joined in her husband’s excitement, expressing an only half-joking desire to serve as Pauling’s proxy at every other meeting.)


Unlike positions on the Advisory Board, appointments to the Committee of Selection were made for only one year, though they were renewable. This appointment calendar lent itself to a fairly consistent cycle of activities over the period that Pauling served as a member — twelve years in total, as it turned out.

First, in the fall, Moe would send Pauling a formal invitation to participate on behalf of the Trustees. The two would then begin working out the best dates for Pauling to travel to New York, since he had the longest commute of any committee member. The meetings took place in New York, generally in mid-February and again in mid-March, which meant that Pauling had to arrange for two trips across the country. With the dates set and arrangements made, Moe then sent Pauling the applicant digests by rail express at the beginning of winter. Digests also went to subject group referees for their input. Moe confirmed that the referees were very “plain speaking” because he had assured them of confidentiality.

Upon joining the committee, Pauling initially thought that he might fly to New York, but after Moe informed him that the Foundation would only reimburse him for one of the two required flights, Pauling decided to take the train instead. This mode of transport became commonplace for subsequent meetings, and as the train ride across the country took several days, Pauling always paid extra for a sleeper car, Ava Helen sometimes accompanying him. That said, during his first year on the committee – as he would occasionally over the next dozen years – Pauling realized that taking the train back and forth was simply not feasible, and he bought an airplane ticket home instead.

Message from Moe to Pauling indicating receipt of confidential information. Note the annotation providing an update on Moe’s grandson.

During his first year as a committee member, Pauling worked through the reading prior to his departure from Pasadena, but in later years much of this work was saved for the train. Because Pauling had so far to travel and tried to consolidate his trips as much as possible, Moe sometimes sent the applicant digests to a location where Pauling was staying prior to the meeting. During the war years, this often meant mailing digests to Washington, D.C. When Pauling was invited to the 150th anniversary celebration of the University of New Brunswick in 1950, Moe arranged to send the materials to Linus Pauling Jr., then living in Massachusetts while a medical student at Harvard. But most often, if they were not sent to Pauling at home, the digests were delivered to his hotel in New York.

Moe ordered and indexed the digests according to his own preferences, which were meant to guide the Committee since they were unlikely to read all the applications themselves. In his indexes, Moe highlighted particularly strong proposals through the use of capitalized and double-spaced names, indicating a strong recommendation that they be read and considered. The only materials that Pauling was required to review were those connected to his areas of specialty, including mathematics, physics, physical chemistry, and biochemistry. Pauling could not share what he read with anyone but he was allowed to consult with his colleagues in a general way, if he desired. Pauling was also empowered to read as many cases as he liked from other areas like history, sociology and poetry.

Once the meetings had concluded, Pauling would send his travel receipts to Moe for reimbursement. Over the twelve years that he was on the Committee of Selection, Pauling’s travel expenses ranged from around $250 for each trip at the beginning, to closer to $400 at the end. These higher costs included a degree of inflation, but also had to do with Pauling flying with greater frequency. Pauling also received $100 as an honorarium for each meeting.


While this was the normal course of events, there were exceptions from time to time, mostly having to do with the calendar. In his first few years of service, Pauling was quite flexible about when the meetings were scheduled. This began to change around 1943, as his war-time commitments increased. The following year, Pauling could not wait for Moe’s usual fall invitation and instead inquired during the summer if he would be asked to serve again. Part of this request had to do with the fact that Pauling had been invited to give the Stieglitz Lecture at the University of Chicago but the university would not pay for his travel, so he hoped to make it a part of one of his annual Guggenheim trips to save costs.

Later, in 1946, Pauling found himself with so much East Coast business to attend to that he expressed a desire to cover both Guggenheim meetings during one trip, which he hoped could be scheduled within twenty-five days of each other. Because of all the work that needed to be done between the meetings, Moe told him that this was not possible.


Despite the complications of having a busy, California-based member on the Committee of Selection, Moe was well aware of the value of Pauling’s contributions. After Pauling was diagnosed with nephritis around the time of his second 1941 trip for the Committee, Moe became worried and asked that Pauling take extra good care of himself. That fall he wrote to Ava Helen, who was answering some of Pauling’s mail during his recovery, that her husband was a “first-class member of the Committee and first-class members of that Committee are very, very, very scarce.” Moe’s estimation of Pauling would remain high during the years that followed.

Becoming An Asset for the Guggenheim Foundation

Simon Guggenheim

[Ed Note: In much the same fashion as last year’s examination of Linus Pauling’s administrative work at Caltech, the Pauling Blog is once again going long form, this time with a detailed look at Pauling’s connections with the Guggenheim Foundation. This is the first post in a series that will occupy much of our schedule through the late Spring.]

Simon and Olga Guggenheim established the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1925 to honor their son, who had died in 1922 just before he was to enter college. The Guggenheims’ intentions for this new foundation were “to improve the quality of education and the practice of the arts and professions in the United States, to foster research, and to provide for the cause of better international understanding.”

The Foundation aimed to do so by offering “promising scholars, both men and women, opportunities under the freest possible conditions to carry on advanced study and research in any field of knowledge, or opportunities for the development of an unusual talent in any of the fine arts, including music.” That charge supported fifteen fellows in the organization’s first year and forty-three in its second. Within its first decade, the Foundation had extended its ideals by supporting applicants from Latin America and Canada, in addition to the United States.

Shortly after setting up the Foundation, Simon Guggenheim stated that

It has been my observation…that just about the time a young man…is prepared to do valuable research, he is compelled to spend his whole time in teaching. Salaries are small; so he is compelled to do this in order to live, and often he loses the impulse for creative work in his subject, which should be preserved in order to make his teaching of the utmost value, and also for the sake of the value of the researches in carrying on of civilization.

Linus Pauling was one such beneficiary and his 1926 Guggenheim Fellowship proved to be a crucial step forward for both his career and, indeed, the arc of twentieth century chemistry. The experience likewise initiated a relationship with the Foundation, lasting several decades, that placed Pauling in a position to mold his own field and, to a lesser extent, American culture more generally.


In 1975, author John H. Davies, who was researching a biography of the Guggenheim family, asked Pauling to reflect on what his Guggenheim Fellowship had meant to his life. In response, Pauling described how he had been learning about quantum mechanics in the mid-1920s as a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, but that the opportunity to meet both leading and emerging physicists in Europe gave him more confidence in his own ideas on the application of quantum theory to chemical problems. Much of his theoretical work that followed was based on those nineteen months in Europe, and the freedom granted by the Guggenheim Fellowship, especially when compared to the more restrictive grants offered by the Rockefeller Foundation, was just what he needed at the time.

Pauling also told Davies that in addition to Frank Aydelotte, who chaired the Foundation’s Committee of Selection from its first meeting in 1925 until 1950, Henry Allen Moe, the Foundation’s Secretary, was the most influential figure in shaping what the Foundation would ultimately become. Notably, from the start Moe made it his goal to know each and every Fellow. And indeed, when Linus and Ava Helen Pauling first arrived in New York before heading off to Europe in 1926, Moe invited them to stop by and see him, giving the young couple advice on how to navigate and best utilize their time overseas. Remarkably, during a forty-year tenure at the Foundation that saw the appointment of thousands of Fellows, Moe was largely able to achieve his goal to at least meet each selected individual. Moe and Pauling, however, developed an especially unique relationship over the years as the two became close colleagues and friends.


Maurice Huggins

After Pauling completed his tenure as a Fellow, he quickly emerged as an important asset for Moe and the Foundation. When the search for new Fellows began in the fall of 1928, Moe wrote to Pauling asking for recommendations and ensuring him that they would remain confidential. This guarantee of confidentiality also extended to the many letters of reference that Pauling supplied for scores of applicants. Over time, Pauling’s judgments became central to the Foundation’s selection process, but early on, Pauling’s opinions did not always line up with final decisions on who received funding.

In 1930 Moe requested Pauling’s opinion of Maurice Loyal Huggins, then a Stanford professor and formerly a lab-mate of Pauling’s when the two were in graduate school at Caltech. Pauling’s reply was exacting in it assessment of both strengths and weaknesses, a characteristic that would remain consistent throughout Pauling’s professional life.

According to Pauling, Huggins was one of the top six chemists then looking at crystal structures in the United States. Pauling also told Moe that ever since Huggins had moved to Stanford, he had found it difficult to obtain funding. This, in turn, had affected his research, leading him to follow unfruitful lines focusing on organic crystal structures. But these issues did not dissuade Pauling from recommending Huggins. Instead, they seemed to highlight the strength of his proposed research on surface structures, which Pauling judged to be more appropriate to his talents. Pauling’s recommendation, however, was not enough for Huggins to be awarded a Fellowship.

Pauling also used his position as a Fellow to recommend those around him. Early on, in 1931, he put forth his assistant Boris Podolsky for a Fellowship to visit Albert Einstein in Berlin and Vladimir Fock in Leningrad, in both instances to discuss ideas on combining quantum theory and relativity. As was the case with Huggins, Pauling’s belief in Podolsky’s work was not enough to convince the Committee of Selection that he was worthy of a Fellowship.

William Zachariasen

In other instances, Pauling’s negative assessments were not enough to prevent someone from receiving support. On one such occasion, in 1934, Moe wrote to Pauling asking if University of Chicago physicist William H. Zachariasen was a “first-rate scholar with a first-rate project.” Similar to Huggins, Pauling described Zachariasen as being among the top six crystal structure researchers in the United States and also the head of an important project on the structure of borates. On the same token, Pauling also pointed out that Zachariasen had already spent time with Viktor M. Goldschmidt in Gottingen and Lawrence Bragg in Manchester, and was likewise equipped with a good lab in Chicago. As such, Pauling concluded that Zachariasen, while indeed being “first-rate,” would not gain much from a return trip to Europe and recommended that he not be awarded a Fellowship.

In so doing, Pauling also took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the true value and impact of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an opinion that seems clearly to have been based on his own experiences as a Fellow.

It is my conviction that the Guggenheim Foundation can contribute more to the development of American scientists by awarding fellowships to able and promising young men (only two or three years beyond the Ph.D.) who can learn a new technique in a foreign laboratory or from a foreign professor and bring it back to America, or who can obtain training in one branch of knowledge which in combination with earlier training may lead to the development of a new field of research, rather than by awarding fellowships to mature first-rate scientists to enable them to prosecute definite research, except when the research is of great importance and requires the facilities of a foreign country for its prosecution.

Pauling’s conclusions with respect to Zachariasen and the mission of the Guggenheim Fellowships did not, in this instance, hold sway as Zachariasen was awarded the Fellowship.


But not all of Pauling’s instincts on potential fellows were at odds with those of the Foundation. By 1936, George W. Wheland and Pauling had worked together at Caltech for three years, enough time for Pauling to forecast his becoming “one of the leading university research men and teachers of the country.” By Pauling’s reckoning, Wheland was the only person in the world to be thoroughly trained in organic chemistry and to have mastered the principles of quantum mechanics. The only person close to Wheland’s caliber was Erich Hückel in Stuttgart, but he did not possess the same depth of training in organic chemistry.

Prompted by Pauling’s encouragement, Wheland submitted an application for a 1936-1937 Fellowship. In it, he outlined plans to visit Christopher K. Ingold at University College London, and Robert Robinson and Nevil Sidgwick at Oxford. In his letter of support, Pauling pointed out to Moe that Wheland was the first applicant to apply from Caltech’s Chemistry Division since Pauling had received his own award some ten years prior, perhaps implying in the process that the Division was due. This time the Committee of Selection agreed and, one year later, Caltech and Pauling enjoyed another success when nominee Lawrence O. Brockway also received funding.

As Pauling’s judgements came more and more in line with those of the Foundation, Moe and others began to take notice. That attention would earn Pauling a place on the Guggenheim Advisory Board in 1939 and, not long after, on its Committee of Selection.

Now Accepting Applications: The Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries

With the beginning of another year, the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) is pleased to announce that applications are once again being solicited for its Resident Scholar Program.

Now in its thirteenth year, the Resident Scholar Program provides research grants to scholars interested in conducting work in SCARC. Stipends of $2,500 per month, renewable for up to two months (for a total maximum grant award of $5,000), will be awarded to researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the Center. Grant monies can be used for any purpose.

Researchers will be expected to conduct their scholarly activities while in residence at Oregon State University. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students, and independent scholars are welcome to apply. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 15, 2020.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes pursued by the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest (including hops and brewing), multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged in great depth with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, though proposals can address use of any of the SCARC collections.

Detailed information outlining the qualifications necessary for application, as well as the selection process and the conditions under which awards will be made, is available at the following location: http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/residentscholar.pdf

Additional information on the program is available at the Resident Scholar homepage and profiles of past award recipients – some of whom have traveled from as far away as Germany and Brazil – are available here.

Pauling, the State Department, and the Right to Travel

[Ed Note: We conclude our posting schedule for 2019 with this look at a controversy from sixty-two years ago. See you again in January!]

Linus Pauling’s largely congenial relationship with Soviet scientists had always been motivated by a desire to foster academic exchange between the two world’s two superpowers. Pauling first visited the USSR in Summer 1957, and as soon as he returned home, he expressed an eagerness to continue collaborating with his Soviet peers.

Perhaps most notably, Pauling extended an offer to Academician V.N. Orekhovitch to come to Caltech and deliver a guest lecture on procollagen, which was Orekhovitch’s subject of expertise. To pave the way for this visit, Pauling offered an honorarium of $250, which was a large sum in absolute terms but especially so for Soviets, for whom “hard currency” like U.S. dollars had tremendous spending power.

Orekhovitch readily accepted this offer and the two initiated the process of securing a travel visa through the usual State Department channels. However, in November 1957, Pauling received an urgent telegram from Orekhovitch in which he stated that he was unable to obtain travel papers and that he desperately needed Pauling’s help.


Pauling in Leningrad, 1957

When Pauling received the telegram he immediately began to work towards understanding why the visa had been denied. One clue was a recent article that he had read that hinted that Pasadena – among other cities – had been declared to be off-limits for Soviet travelers. However, he was not certain of this information, or that this was the reason for Orekhovitch’s denial.

In search of answers, Pauling contacted multiple colleagues across the country asking whether or not they had encountered similar difficulties. Paul Doty, of Harvard University, replied that he had recently become aware that travel by Soviets was not permitted to the entire state of Massachusetts except for Cambridge, where Harvard was located. This bit of information seemed to confirm that Pauling’s initial fears were indeed true: the State Department had established certain areas of the United States as off-limits for Soviet visitors.


Despite this, Pauling was determined to get his Soviet colleague a visa. In December 1957, a month after having first received Orekhovitch’s desperate telegram, Pauling spoke to a State Department official, Lawrence Mitchell, who confirmed that Pasadena, San Francisco, and much of Los Angeles were forbidden for Soviet visitors. Speaking over the phone, Mitchell explained to Pauling that Pasadena had been put on the list specifically to exclude travel to Caltech – an important point that would be contradicted in later exchanges.

Mitchell also made it clear that the State Department did not intend to lift the restriction anytime soon. Nor could Mitchell grant exceptions for specific individuals, because then Soviet travel restrictions “would have little effect in applying pressure on the Russian government.” In effect, this meant that the State Department had barred travel to Pasadena for larger political aims.

For Pauling, the ramifications of this policy were unacceptable. In his view, the refusal of Orekhovitch’s visa was not just a matter of a single person being denied the right to travel, but was actually representative of a much larger problem: the stifling of US-Soviet scientific collaboration.


In the wake of his phone call with Lawrence Mitchell, Pauling set out to express his disapproval in a more formal way. In a December letter to Detlev Bronk, Pauling made clear his perspective, noting that

I feel most strongly about this issue matter because I think that it gives the Russian scientists who come to the United States a false impression –the impression that we are a police state, where scientists are not free to talk with other scientists, but are ruled by the Department of State. This surely is bad propaganda.

That same day, Pauling wrote a parallel letter to the State Department in which he outlined his frustration with the decision to deny Orekhovitch a visa. In this communication, Pauling emphasized the potential for loss of scientific progress, noting specifically that Orekhovitch’s “inability to come to Pasadena has prevented the scientists here from getting information that would be of value to them.” Further, he felt “strongly that it is wrong for the United States to give visiting scientists the impression that work in fundamental science is not conducted freely in our universities and research laboratories.” Simply stated, “the policy that has permitted this action to be taken seems to me to be one that clearly does harm to the United States of America.”

Importantly, Pauling was likewise bothered by a nagging feeling that Pasadena’s inclusion on the list of banned cities was directed specifically at him. In his letter to the State Department he couched this by writing in “protest against the discriminatory action” where Soviets were allowed to visit Harvard or UC-Berkeley, but not Caltech. A Harvard colleague echoed Pauling’s feelings, describing the situation as “embarrassing and frustrating” in his own letter to the State Department.


Pauling examining molecular models with Soviet scientists, 1957

The government’s response to these complaints was, for Pauling, far short of satisfactory. In its reply, and in contradiction to Lawrence Mitchell, the State Department explained that Pasadena was deemed to be a strategic city because of its geographic location; that Caltech was off-limits simply because it was a part of Pasadena; and that all Soviets, not just scientists, were excluded from traveling to the city.

The letter did not clarify why Pasadena’s location made it a strategic city, nor did it provide any indication as to why Berkeley or Cambridge were not geographically strategic. Rather, the suggestion was merely that Orekhovitch had been denied a visa as a matter of routine and that the ban on travel to Pasadena was logical due to the implied importance of the city.

After this initial exchange, several letters were sent back and forth between Pauling and the State Department. In them, Pauling continued to criticize what he believed to be an arbitrary decision, and the State Department adamantly defended its position that Pasadena was a strategically important city that must remain off-limits. In these exchanges, both the State Department and Pauling increasingly became focused on establishing that they were in the right, to the point where tangential details that were not germane to the main issue began to assume a place of primacy.

In one example letter, an official from the State Department wrote that he had reason to believe that Pauling had called the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Georgy Zarubin, and asked him to work on granting Orekhovitch a visa to visit Pasadena. Pauling, not wanting incorrect information to go unchecked, indicated that he had at no point ever contacted Zarubin or any other representative of the Soviet Union. In all subsequent letters, Pauling always included this piece of information, and the State Department continued to reply in kind. Petty behavior of this sort came to permeate much of the communication between the two parties during this time.


Sadly for Pauling, the issue was never resolved. Near the end of 1958, more than a year after initially extending his invitation, Pauling sent Orekhovitch another letter asking him to come to Pasadena as soon as the visa restrictions were lifted. Perhaps understanding that this opportunity might never actually come to fruition, Orekhovitch chose not to address the issue in his reply, instead wishing Pauling a happy new year and sending his best regards to Ava Helen. That letter appears to have marked the end of their professional correspondence and Orekhovitch does not seem to have ever made it to Pasadena.

Pauling and Sakharov

[Part 2 of 2]

Linus Pauling’s relationship with the scientist and peace activist Andrei Sakharov – a kindred spirit whom he never met – began in unusual fashion. In 1978 Pauling was in Moscow attending the International Conference on Biochemistry and Molecular Biology when an unidentified man handed him a letter written in Russian. As Pauling later recounted, the man, “who spoke with a pronounced Central European accent,” said that the letter was from Andrei Sakharov, and that Pauling “should have it translated by some reliable person.”

Pauling accepted the letter and, about a month later, had it translated by Sakharov’s son-in-law, Efrem Yankelevich, a US-based activist in his own right who helped to give Sakharov a “voice” to the world during his years in exile.

Page 1 of Sakharov’s handwritten letter to Pauling, 1978

But before Pauling could get the letter translated, Sakharov sent it to several news agencies for wider distribution. In it, Sakharov asked for Pauling’s support in the push to help free three Soviet scientists – physicist Yuri Orlov, mathematician Alexander Bolonkin, and biologist Sergei Kovalev – all of whom had been sentenced to terms in labor camps for acts of political dissidence.

Unfortunately, in addition to the original text, the published letter admonished Pauling for a perceived lack of action, and a claim that he was ignoring Sakharov’s plea for support. In actual fact, Pauling had been traveling when the letter was published and hadn’t even received a copy of the translation by the time of the letter’s release. Understandably, he was frustrated for having been called out by Sakharov in this way.

Wishing to set the record straight, Pauling penned an editorial for publication in Physics Today, which was already planning to run an article on Pauling’s receipt of the Lomonosov Gold Medal. In a note appended to the editorial, Pauling stressed that “no changes be made in my letter, unless I have given approval. This is a delicate matter.”

The piece was published, without changes, in the magazine’s December 1978 issue. In it, Pauling confessed that he felt duped and bombarded by Sakharov’s tactics and chided that “in the future he should be more careful in his selection of advisors and agents.”

That said, Pauling also took pains to make clear that he supported Sakharov’s activist work and noted that, in the past, he had written letters in support of Soviet scientists who had been wrongly imprisoned. Nonetheless, in this particular instance Pauling did not follow through on Sakharov’s request, choosing not to write letters asking for the release of the three scientists in question.


Time moved forward but Sakharov refused to let the issue fade. Two years later, in 1981, he sent several letters – including a handwritten message handed to Pauling via his son-in-law, Yankelevich – repeating the same urgent call to action in support of the three Soviet scientists. Some of these letters even included personal statements from the scientists themselves, and Yankelevich appears to have added updates on their lives. For Sergei Kovalev, the situation appeared to be deteriorating rapidly as he was reportedly suffering from tuberculosis as well as partial paralysis. 

In addition to the personal handwritten notes, Sakharov once again published a separate public letter to Pauling, which appeared in translated form in the now defunct Freedom Appeals magazine. In this instance, Sakharov sought to enlist Pauling’s support for the release of biologist Sergei Kovalev and his daughter-in-law, Tatiana Osipova.

While Sakharov’s initial correspondence had been fairly dry, this latest published letter was more emotional. Addressing Pauling, Sakharov wrote,

I know neither your political views nor the extent to which you may be sympathetic to the Soviet regime. But what I am asking of you is not politics. To save honest and courageous people who are about to perish is the duty of humaneness and a question of honor. Please make good use of your prestige; appeal to Soviet leaders and to the leaders of Western countries. Please do what you can.

This new approach seems to have made an impact, if in an oblique way. Even though Pauling once again did not act to free the imprisoned Soviet scientists – Sergei Kovalev was eventually released by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 – he did eventually come to the aid of a different Soviet intellectual: Andrei Sakharov himself.


Gerhard Herzberg

In 1980, just five years removed from his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Sakharov was sent into exile in the city of Gorky, and was routinely subjected to harassment and isolation in the years that followed. In April 1981, Pauling and Gerhard Herzberg, a fellow Nobel Chemistry laureate, sent a letter to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and the Canadian Ambassador to the Soviet Union demanding the “end of [Sakharov’s] confinement.” In the message, Pauling and Herzberg explained that their letter was not a publicity stunt, and that there would be “no communication about it to the ‘media.'”

Instead the authors put forth that, “every society needs its critics if it is to diagnose successfully and overcome its problems […] Surely your nation is mighty enough to tolerate a patriotic critic of the stature of Andrei Sakharov.” Pauling and Herzberg concluded by harkening back to the dark years of gulags and secret police, exhorting to Brezhnev that “Surely you do not want a return to Stalinism.”

Later in 1981, after having been in exile for a year, Sakharov began a hunger strike to demand that his daughter-in-law, Liza, be permitted to move to the U.S. to be with her husband, Sakharov’s son Alexei. As he initiated this protest, Sakharov sent a letter to his foreign colleagues rallying them for support. Though this plea was of a personal nature, Sakharov explained that

I consider the defense of our children just as rightful as the defense of other victims of injustice, but in this case it is precisely me and my public activities which have been the cause of human suffering.

In addition to the open letter, which was broad and impersonally written, Sakharov sent a direct message to Pauling, imploring him specifically to support the release of his daughter-in-law. Ultimately the campaign worked, and before the year had concluded Liza was granted an exit visa to live in the United States.

But the victory did not come without a cost. Namely, as a penalty for having gone on the hunger strike, Sakharov was stripped of all his accolades by the Soviet government. In reaction to this, an international campaign, initated by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee – a non-governmental organization dedicated to insuring that human rights are respected and practiced worldwide – solicited prominent scientists to urge Premier Brezhnev to release Sakharov from exile and allow him to return to his home in Moscow.

Pauling’s letter to Leonid Brezhnev, August 1981

Pauling, clearly aware of Sakharov’s plight, agreed to write a second letter to Brezhnev, and promptly sent the appeal arguing for Sakharov’s release on the grounds of human rights violations. Delivered in August 1981, the letter apparently fell on deaf ears.


By 1983 Sakharov had been in exile for three years and his health was beginning to decline. Pauling’s earlier attempts to secure his release had not worked, so he adopted new tactics. In mid-1983, Pauling sent a telegram to the Soviet Academy of Sciences and to then Soviet premier, Yuri Andropov, offering Sakharov a job as a research associate in theoretical physics at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto. Justifying this offer, Pauling told news reporters that “I feel sympathy for Sakharov as a person who gets into trouble for criticizing his own country.” Upon learning of the offer, Sakharov publicly announced that he was willing to emigrate, but the Soviets declined to grant Sakharov an exit visa, citing “state secrets” connected to his scientific work on the hydrogen bomb during World War II.

In 1986 Sakharov was finally released amidst the Gorbachev regime’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. The famed scientist and activist promptly returned to Moscow, and in 1989 he died in his home. While it seems that Pauling’s attempts to free Sakharov did not ultimately work, and there is no documentary evidence that their relationship advanced in the years following his release, it is worth mentioning that Pauling received an advance copy of Sakharov’s memoirs prior to their posthumous publication in 1990. It is not clear if Pauling requested the copy, but his receipt of the volume is a suggestion that, even in death, Sakharov remained with Pauling.

Andrei Sakharov: An Overview

[Part 1 of 2]

Esteemed scientist, subject to ridicule in his home country, becomes outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons testing and wins Nobel Peace Prize with activist wife by his side. Without thinking twice, one might quickly assume this to be a short summary of the life of Linus Pauling, but it also suffices nicely as a capsule biography of the Soviet physicist and activist, Andrei Sakharov.

Indeed, the lives of these two men were striking in their similarity. Both were famous scientists – Sakharov a nuclear physicist and Pauling a chemist – and, following World War II, both became very outspoken critics of the nuclear arms race. Both were likewise criticized by their governments for their rhetoric and world view, and both eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for their activist work. It is no surprise then, that the lives of these two men intersected more than once and that their relationship seemed to be based on a mutual understanding that their lives were unique, yet in some ways intertwined.


Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, born in 1921, spent the early chapters of his scientific career advancing research that directly led to the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Regarded to be the “great equalizer” in the arms race against the United States, the first successful H-bomb tests were celebrated as a significant milestone within the Soviet Union, and Sakharov’s contributions to the project led to his receiving multiple accolades from Soviet leadership, including both the Lenin and the Stalin prizes.

Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, 1988. Credit: New York Times photograph.

As time moved forward however, decorations of this sort did nothing to quell Sakharov’s growing concerns about nuclear weapons and the threat that they posed to world safety. Sakharov soon channeled his worry into activism and protest, often rallying around the cause of nuclear disarmament. During this period, the recently widowed Sakharov also met his second wife, Yelena Bonner, who was an activist in her own right. The couple remained married and worked together until Sakharov’s death in 1989.


Sakharov’s protests were not always about nuclear weapons; he was also very concerned about human rights violations and was not shy about vocalizing his opinions. These activities were not embraced by the Soviet regime – outspoken criticism of the government was never welcome in the USSR – but for a time Sakharov’s voice was not entirely silenced by the government, probably because of his well-established prominence on the global stage, which included his receipt of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Official tolerance had its limits though, and when Sakharov protested his country’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 he had crossed the proverbial line. Within a year, and despite receiving public support from respected colleagues including Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov was banished from his Moscow home and exiled to the city of Gorky, which was then a closed city to foreigners, and is now known as Nizhny Novgorod. Frequent reminders of governmental censure and dissatisfaction followed from there, including restrictions on telephone and visitor access, unannounced raids of his apartment, and force-feedings during hunger strikes.

Nonetheless, Sakharov endured and managed to find ways to spread his message around the world. Eventually, in 1986, under the promise of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev freed Sakharov from exile and allowed him to return to Moscow. Sakharov died just three years later at the age of 68.


Andrei Sakharov’s life was punctuated by moments of great passion and defined by an unbreakable determination. Throughout all of the hardships that he endured, he never wavered in his dedication to the causes that he believed in, a trait that he had in common with Linus Pauling. But despite the many similarities that these two men shared, they did not formally interact with one another until the late 1970s, several decades after they had both begun to speak out against a common foe: nuclear weapons. Sakharov, it seems, was the first to reach out and initiate a relationship between the two men. The specifics of this connection will be explored in greater depth next week.

The Joseph Priestley Medal

On August 30, 1983, almost exactly 250 years after the birth of famous chemist Joseph Priestley, Linus Pauling was offered the most prestigious award granted by the American Chemical Society: the Priestley Gold Medal.

The medal, granted to an individual who has made tremendous and innovative contributions to chemistry, was established in 1922. Initially awarded every three years, the ACS decided in 1944 to make it an annual prize. The Society elected to name the prestigious award after Priestley as his work with gases influenced the field of chemistry as well as general science, and his interests in a whole host of other areas made a significant impact on a number of additional disciplines, including political theory and religious practice.


By the time that Pauling received the Priestley Medal he had been affiliated with the American Chemical Society for over fifty years, and many were shocked to discover he hadn’t already received the award. As an ACS past president as well as the recipient of the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics, the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, and the Willard Gibbs Award, he was certainly a lauded and highly decorated member of the society. For many, the explanation for his omission could be sourced to the generally conservative political viewpoint espoused by of the ACS Board of Directors.

For many years prior to his receipt of the award, Pauling had played an active role in the Priestley Medal selection process. Notably, in 1949 he nominated the eventual recipient, Arthur B. Lamb, as an acknowledgement of Lamb’s work as editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society as well as his contributions to inorganic chemistry and the structure of complex ions. By then, Lamb and Pauling had enjoyed a lengthy correspondence as the former would often send manuscripts to Pauling to edit and evaluate for inclusion in JACS.

The following year Pauling nominated W.F. Giauque, a Canadian chemist who focused on chemical thermodynamics. While Giauque was of four finalists, the 1950 Priestley Medal instead went to Charles A. Kraus. Pauling was among the pool of thirty-three individuals nominated for that year, but did not make the cut to the final four.

“The Dickinson College Award, In Memory of Joseph Priestley,” presented to Pauling in 1969

In 1969, Pauling won a different award named after Joseph Priestley: the Priestley Memorial Award from Dickinson College, home to the largest Priestley collection in the world. Pauling was selected for this honor because of his “significant contributions to the welfare of mankind through his research in physical chemistry.”

As a component of his trip to accept the award, Pauling spent two days on campus interacting with students and faculty, and discussing what was then his primary concern: the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles, or ABMs. Pauling considered the mere idea of ABMs to be “silly” and more of a threat to the nation than a tool to provide security. Pauling further believed that governments, especially the U.S. government, should instead be focusing on the “lopsided distribution of the world’s wealth,” which he regarded to be “a chief problem.”


Pauling receiving the Priestley Medal from an unidentified ACS representative.

The symposium to recognize the awardee, titled “The Legacy of Joseph Priestley,” was held in Washington D.C. on April 9, 1984, and honored not only Pauling but also another thirty additional recipients of ACS awards. Derek Davenport, a chemist and historian then serving as chair for the ACS Division of Chemical Education, proposed and helped organize the symposium, advocating for Pauling as the awardee from the very beginning. Since Ava Helen Pauling’s death in 1981, Linus Pauling had drastically scaled back his travel schedule, but he was glad to make a trip to receive this special award, named for a historical figure whom he greatly admired.

At the symposium, Pauling received a gold medal bearing the likeness of Joseph Priestley, as well as a bronze replica. In addition to his acceptance address, to be delivered during the symposium’s opening ceremony, Pauling was obliged to participate in several interviews with the Society’s radio program, “Dimensions in Science,” as well as a meeting with local school teachers, another radio program called “At Your Service,” and an appearance on a local television program called “Newsmakers.”


Pauling’s acceptance address proved controversial. Titled “Chemistry and the World of Tomorrow,” the lecture was penned as a sequel of sorts to “Chemistry and the World of Today,” Pauling’s ACS presidential address from 1949.

Thirty-five years before, Pauling had discussed how the entire world was affected by chemistry, stressing the imperative that the ACS take a political turn to address society’s needs in the wake of World War II. Pauling’s 1984 talk was much more in line with his recent anti-war rhetoric and included criticisms of industrial chemists who had contributed to the advancement of the nuclear arms race. In particular, Pauling felt that chemists had been ignoring their obligations as global citizens for far too long while they focused on the science of war, and he made it known that this shirking of responsibility had angered him to no end. Suffice it to say, this component of the address was not received warmly by many of the chemists in the audience.

Pauling also made a point to refer to George Kistiakowsky, who had passed away less than a year earlier. Kistiakowsky was a physical chemist who had advised President Eisenhower from 1959 through 1961, and who had warned about the effects of nuclear proliferation. Pauling embraced his words and carried their sentiment throughout his speech, quoting Kistiakowsky as follows:

…and so here we are, possessors of some 50,000 nuclear warheads, more than enough to produce a holocaust that will not only destroy industrial civilization but is likely to spread over the earth environmental effects from which recovery is by no means certain…there is simply not enough time before the world explodes…the threat of annihilation is unprecedented.


For many, Pauling’s rhetoric sent a chill through the room. Once he had completed his remarks, all of the other award recipients being honored were presented, and one-by-one Pauling sought to shake their hands in congratulation. One man refused to engage in this way, leaving Pauling shocked and upset. Derek Davenport, the event organizer, later reflected that

We were treated to an uncharacteristically graceless litany of evils of the military industrial complex and the necessity for eternal vigilance on the part of the concerned scientist. Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm of the industrial chemists was distinctly muted and it was a rather glum Linus Pauling who assumed his seat in the center of the platform.

In the days following Pauling’s poorly received address, the ACS Board of Directors contacted previous recipients of the Priestley Medal to solicit their opinion on changing the address format during the opening ceremony. In this solicitation, the head of the Board Committee on Grants and Awards, Joseph Rogers, recommended shifting the acceptance address to a later date in the symposium and devoting only 10-15 minutes to an introduction of the awardee on the first day. In support of this change, Rogers cited the growing length of the opening ceremony as well as the presence of an audience that was mostly not of a scientific background.

Pauling responded to this proposal with disapproval, noting that the medal is “described as the greatest honor that the American Chemical Society can bestow.” Recipients then should logically have the opportunity to address the public at the initial gathering and to share their point of view in the spirit of the medal’s namesake.