Pauling’s Nobel Nominators: Chemistry, 1949-1954; Medicine,1953


Linus Pauling shaking hands with King Gustav at the 1954 Nobel Prize Ceremony. Stockholm, Sweden. Photo Credit: Text & Bilder

[Part 5 of 6]

Today’s post focuses on those individuals who nominated Linus Pauling for the Nobel Chemistry Prize during the span of years between 1949 and his Chemistry Nobel laureate year of 1954.  We also examine Pauling’s nomination for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953.  The post relies on data released online by the Nobel Foundation.



  • Jacques Hadamard: French mathematician and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who made major contributions in number theory, complex function theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations.  Having lost his two older sons in World War I and another during World War II, he became active in international peace movements.
  • George Kistiakowsky: Ukrainian-American physical chemistry professor and chairholder at an invited university, Harvard.  In October 1943, he was brought into the Manhattan Project as a consultant.  He was soon placed in charge of X Division, which was responsible for the development of the explosive lenses necessary for an implosion-type nuclear weapon. He later served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Science Advisor.  He severed his connections with the government in protest against the war in Vietnam, and became active in an anti-war organization, the Council for a Livable World, becoming its chairman in 1977.  At Harvard, his research interests were in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics.
    • The nomination was made jointly with E.B Wilson and R.B. Woodward.
  • Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr.: American chemist who received his doctorate under the Pauling’s supervision.  Wilson made major contributions to the field of molecular spectroscopy and developed the theory of how rotational spectra are influenced by centrifugal distortion during rotation.  He pioneered the use of group theory for the analysis and simplification of normal mode analysis, particularly for high symmetry molecules, such as benzene.  Following the Second World War, Wilson conducted important work on the application of microwave spectroscopy to the determination of molecular structure.
  • Robert Burns Woodward (see 1948 Zechmeister nomination in previous post)
  • Charles Coryell: American chemist and co-discoverer of the element promethium.  Coryell earned a Ph.D. at California Institute of Technology in 1935 as the student of Arthur A. Noyes.  During the late 1930s, he engaged in research on the structure of hemoglobin in association with Linus Pauling and together they published several journal articles.  When he nominated Pauling he was a chairholder at MIT, which was invited to submit nominations.



  • Maurice Auméras: French chemist who, in 1950, was a chairholder at an invited university in Paris.
  • Wilhelm Gerhard Burgers: Chemist who studied the structure of matter and its physical properties. He was a chairholder at an invited university in the Netherlands at Delft.
  • Jean Doeuvre: French organic chemist who was a chairholder at an invited university in Lyon, France.
  • Paul-Antoine Giguère: Canadian chemist and chairholder at the invited Université Laval, located in Quebec.  He worked at Caltech with Pauling in the 1930s.
  • Stig Claesson: Professor of chemistry at a Nordic university listed in the special regulations of 1900, the University of Uppsala, Sweden.
    • Nominated with Robert Sanderson Mulliken: American physicist and chemist who was primarily responsible for the early development of molecular orbital theory, or the elaboration of the molecular orbital method of computing the structure of molecules. In 1934 he derived a new scale for measuring the electronegativity of elements. Mulliken’s scale does not entirely correlate with that developed by Linus Pauling, but is generally in close correspondence.  He was a professor at the University of Chicago and received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1966.



  • Hans Erwin Deuel: Swiss agricultural chemist at Technische Hochschule in Zurich who studied colloidal chemistry, focusing on plant gums and pectins in particular.
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Bernardo Houssay: Argentine physiologist and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences who worked in the field of physiology, researching the nervous, digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems.  In the 1930s, Houssay demonstrated the diabetogenic effect on anterior hypophysis extracts and the decrease in diabetes severity with anterior hypophysectomy. These discoveries stimulated the study of hormonal feedback control mechanisms which are central to multiple aspects of modern endocrinology.  In 1947 he received one half of a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the role played by pituitary hormones in regulating the amount of glucose in animals.  The other half of the prize went to Carl Ferdinand Cori and Gerty Cori, who won for their discoveries regarding the role of glucose in carbohydrate metabolism.  Houssay was the first Argentine and Latin American Nobel laureate in the sciences.
  • Charles P. Smyth (see 1946 nomination in previous post)



  • Einar Hille: American mathematician who taught at Yale University.  He was a member of both the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Swedish Royal Academy of Science.
  • Arne Tiselius (see 1948 Riegel nomination in previous post)



  • Edward Doisy: American biochemist and professor at St. Louis University.  Doisy received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1943 with Henrik Dam for their discovery of vitamin K (K from “Koagulations” which is German for “vitamin”) and its chemical structure.  Doisy and Dam’s work stimulated research in endocrinology and opened up a new subfield of organic chemistry focusing on steroid compounds.
  • Paul-Antoine Giguère (see above)
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Felix Haurowitz: Czech-American biochemist and doctor who taught chemistry at Indiana University.  He made key discoveries regarding hemoglobin and immunochemistry, including research in critical respiratory protein and spectroscopy of horse hemoglobin.
  • Julian M. Sturtevant: Biochemist at Yale University and a pioneer in collecting thermodynamic and kinetic data for important biochemical reactions.  He obtained a value for the enthalpy change in DNA structural transitions, which is central to the physical theories surrounding DNA structure and function.  Sturtevant also developed refined calorimetric instruments that allowed for accurate heat measurements to be made of protein structural changes, which is vital to understanding protein chemistry.  Using these instruments he conducted detailed studies measuring energy transfers during cellular metabolism and the mechanism of action of the various serine enzymes.
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi (see 1941 nomination in previous post)
  • Reine Leimu: A chemist based in Turku, Finland.
  • Karl Freudenberg: German chemist who did early seminal work on the absolute configurations of carbohydrates, terpenes, and steroids, and on the structure of cellulose and other polysaccharides. He also researched the nature, structure, and biosynthesis of lignin.  The Research Institute for the Chemistry of Wood and Polysaccharides was developed at the University of Heidelberg for him.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling dancing at the 1954 Nobel Ball. Photo Credit: Pressens Bild, Stockholm.


  • Edward Doisy (see above)
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi (see above)
  • Irène Joliot-Curie: Working in Paris either alone or in collaboration with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, at the Institut du Radium, Joliot-Curie conducted important work on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics.  She shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband, a recognition of their work synthesizing new radioactive elements.  She was also Commissioner for Atomic Energy in France and oversaw construction of first French cyclotron.  Throughout her career she took an interest in the social and intellectual advancement of women.
  • Frédéric Joliot-Curie: Physicist working at the Institut du Radium in Paris.  Collaborating with his wife, Irène, Joliot-Curie discovered that radioactive elements decompose spontaneously, usually with a long period, by emitting positive or negative particles.
  • Rolf Helmer Roschier: Finnish chemist and professor of wood chemistry at the Helsinki University of Technology.  He studied terpenes, the manufacturing of wood pulp, and paper and wood saccharification.
  • Terje Enkvist: Finnish chemist at the University of Helsinki.  He worked in the field of wood chemistry.
  • Niilo Johannes Toivonen: Finnish chemist and professor at the University of Helsinki.  He also worked with pharmaceutical companies and on the editorial board for a Finnish encyclopedia.
  • Jean-Francois Wyart: Based in Paris when he nominated Pauling for the Nobel Prize, he worked in crystal structures and spectrochemistry.
  • Arne Tiselius (see 1948 Riegel nomination in previous post)
  • Theodor Svedberg: A Swedish chemist at Uppsala University, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1926 “for his work on disperse systems.”  Svedberg’s research focused primarily on colloids and macromolecular compounds.  His work with colloids supported the theories of Brownian motion put forward by Albert Einstein and the Polish geophysicist Marian Smoluchowski, and therein contributed additional proof to the existence of molecules.  To support his experimentation, Svedberg developed the technique of analytical ultracentrifugation, and demonstrated its utility in distinguishing pure proteins from one another.  Svedberg also studied the physical properties of colloids, such as their diffusion, light absorption, and sedimentation, from which it could be concluded that the gas laws could be applied to disperse systems.
  • Freudenberg (see above)
    • Nominated with Hans Lebrecht Meerwein: German organic chemist who discovered cationic rearrangement reactions, carbenes, and an important alkylating reagent.  He is known primarily for his work on the reduction of aldehydes and ketones with aluminum alcoholates.   Through his research he clarified the mechanism of many organic reactions.
  • Harlow Shapley:  American astronomer and professor at Harvard.  He used RR Lyrae stars to correctly estimate the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and the sun’s position within it, and found that galaxies tend to occur in clusters, which he called metagalaxies.  In 1953 he proposed his “liquid water belt” theory, now known as the concept of a habitable zone.  He believed that national or international affairs should be given higher priority than research and writing.
    • Nominated with Robert Burns Woodward (see 1948 Zechmeister nomination in previous post)
    • Shapley’s first choice was Pauling and his second choice was Woodward.


Physiology or Medicine


  • John Tileston Edsall: Early protein scientist and professor of biochemistry at Harvard who contributed significantly to the understanding of the hydrophobic interaction. He was active in preserving the history of protein science, and devoted to the study of proteins and their constituent amino acids.  His early work contributed to establishing proteins as unique, large structured molecules that deserved the same intense study as had become commonplace for the chemistry of small molecules.
    • Nominated with Frederick Sanger: British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958 “for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin.”  He also received one quarter of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980, split with Paul Berg – who received one half of the Prize “for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant-DNA” – and with Walter Gilbert who received one quarter of the Prize with Sanger “for their contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids.”
    • Nominated with Robert Brainard Corey:  American biochemist, mostly known for his role in the discovery of the α-helix and the β-sheet with Linus Pauling.  Their discoveries were remarkably correct, and their bond lengths remained the most accurate for the next forty years.  The α-helix and β-sheet are two structures that are now known to form the backbones of many proteins.  While it was Pauling who had the intuition and imagination that produced these concepts, it was Corey who was primarily responsible for proving them correct by carrying out the necessary diffraction experiments.  Together, Pauling and Corey authored more than 30 papers.

Pauling’s Nobel Nominators: Chemistry, 1940-1948


The Nobel Ceremony, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1954. Pauling stands at right. Image by Hans Malmberg.

[Part 4 of 6]

Linus Pauling was nominated at least seventy times for a Nobel Prize and was first nominated for the Chemistry Prize in 1940.  He received nominations nearly every year after until he received the Prize in 1954.  He was nominated for the Peace Prize in 1962 before being awarded the Prize in 1963.  He was also nominated in 1953 for Medicine.  Pauling is the only person to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes, although he was also nominated many times as a co-recipient.

Nobel Prize nominations older than fifty years old are available in an online database for researchers and other interested parties to review. Nominations are sealed for fifty years, as stipulated by the statutes of the Nobel Foundation.  The database includes the nominator’s name and some additional basic information, including location and institutional affiliation.

Today’s post will focus on those who nominated Pauling for the Nobel Chemistry Prize during the years 1940-1948. (You’ll see that Pauling was quite popular in 1948) Later posts will itemize the remainder of his Nobel Chemistry nominations, as well as his nominations for Physiology or Medicine, and for Peace.



  • John G. Kirkwood: American physicist and chemist who focused on physical chemistry.  He earned his BS from the University of Chicago and his PhD from MIT.
  • Karl Landsteiner: Considered the father of transfusion medicine, he was an Austrian immunologist and pathologist. He won the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the major blood groups and for the development of the ABO system of blood typing, which allowed for successful blood transfusions.  When he nominated Pauling, he was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).
    • Nominated with Max Bergmann: Jewish-German biochemist who specialized in decoding protein and peptide structures. This discovery was key for understanding biochemical processes. At the time of his nomination he was a doctor in New York City.



  • Albert Szent-Györgyi: Hungarian physiologist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1937 “for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid.”  He was credited with discovering vitamin C and the components and reactions of the citric acid cycle.  When he nominated Pauling, he was a chairholder at the University of Szeged in Hungary, a Nobel invited university for the Chemistry Prize.



  • Robert Millikan: American experimental physicist, who won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics for his measurement of the elementary electronic charge and his work on the photoelectric effect. In 1923 he was working at Caltech.



  • William N. Lacey: A chemical engineer, Lacey was a chairholder at Caltech, which was an invited university in 1944.  While at Caltech, Lacey helped to develop the chemical engineering program.  He was also the author or co-author of six textbooks and over 140 scientific papers.
    • Lacey and Stuart Bates (below) made their nominations jointly
  • Stuart J. Bates: Professor of physical chemistry and chairholder at an invited university, Caltech.
  • Joseph Koepfli: Caltech chemist and research associate in organic chemistry.  Koepfli worked to develop the blood substitute oxypolygelatin with Pauling and during the Second World War he also researched antimalarial drugs.  In 1944 he was a chairholder when Caltech was invited to nominate laureates.



  • Kirkwood (see 1940 above)
  • Robert Livingston: Physician, neuroscientist, and social activist.  Professor of physiology and chairholder at the invited University of Minnesota.
  • Charles P. Smyth: American physical chemist and chairholder at an invited university, Princeton.  He studied dielectric properties of matter.

Pauling and colleagues in Paris, 1948.


  • Sir Christopher Kelk Ingold: British chemist who studied reaction mechanisms and the electronic structure of organic compounds.  His work served as an introduction into mainstream chemistry of nucleophile, electrophile, inductive and resonance effects and he is regarded as one of the chief pioneers of organic chemistry.  He was a chairholder at University College of London, an invited university, at the time of Pauling’s nomination.
  • Richard Badger: Professor of chemistry and chairholder at an invited university. He developed Badger’s rule, which expresses the relationship between the forces acting between two atoms and the distance separating them.  As an authority on the spectroscopic study of molecules in the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet regions, he conducted important spectroscopic studies of complex molecules.  He also used spectroscopic techniques to explore the conditions under which hydrogen bonds form and to study the contributions such bonds make to the stability of molecular structures.  Badger’s experimental results constituted a valuable resource for his Caltech colleague, Linus Pauling.
    • This nomination was made jointly by Badger, Stuart Bates and William Lacey (see 1944 above), as well as Howard Lucas, Carl Niemann, Bruce Sage, Ernest Swift, and James Sturdivant, all of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
  • Howard J. Lucas: Organic chemist and chairholder at an invited university.  He was at Caltech from the beginning, beginning his career when the school was still known as the Throop College of Technology.  Throughout his career he focused on teaching. Indeed, his real field of endeavor, as he explained it, was “the synthesis of chemists from the raw material of Caltech undergraduates.”
  • Carl Niemann: American biochemist who worked extensively on the chemistry and structure of proteins at Caltech, where in 1948 he was a chairholder.  He is known, with Max Bergmann, for proposing the Bergmann-Niemann hypothesis, which states that proteins consist of 288 residue polypeptides or multiples thereof with periodic sequences of amino acids.  He also contributed to the downfall of the cyclol model of protein structure.  Niemann joined Pauling’s Crellin Laboratory at Caltech in 1938. In 1939 Niemann and Pauling published a strong critique of Dorothy Wrinch’s cyclol hypothesis of protein structure, which held that globular proteins formed inter-linked polyhedral structures. In their rebuttal, Niemann and Pauling argued that X-ray crystallography and other data indicated that cyclol bonds did not occur in proteins and that polypeptides were held together in globular proteins by hydrogen bonds and weaker intermolecular forces.  Niemann went on to head research in immunochemistry and the organic chemistry of proteins.
  • Bruce H. Sage: Chairholder at an invited university, Caltech.  Sage studied petroleum chemistry and phase equilibria in hydrocarbon systems.
  • Ernest H. Swift: Professor in chemical engineering and chairholder at an invited university, Caltech. His work focused on analytical chemistry.
  • James H. Sturdivant: Chemist and professor of chemistry at Caltech from 1938-72. He also served as a chairholder at the invited university and wrote several articles with Pauling.  He developed the X-ray instrumentation necessary to probe the atomic positioning of crystals of a wide variety of chemical and biological materials.  Using this technology, he determined the crystal structures of brookite, PtMe3Cl, and cerium metal.  He also developed X-ray diffraction methods to determine the structures of complex ions in solution.
  • Harold Clayton Urey: Working at the University of Chicago, Urey was an American physical chemist whose pioneering investigations of isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for the discovery of deuterium.  He played a significant role in the development of the atom bomb and gaseous diffusion, but may be most well-known for his contributions to theories on the development of organic life from non-living matter.  In 1958 he accepted a post as a professor-at-large at the new University of California, San Diego where he helped to create the science faculty. He was one of the founding members of UCSD’s school of chemistry, which was created in 1960.
    • This nomination was made jointly with Willard Libby and Joseph Mayer.
  • Willard Frank Libby: A physical chemist and specialist in radiochemistry – particularly hot atom chemistry, tracer techniques, and isotope tracer work.  Libby became well-known at the University of Chicago for his work on natural carbon-14 (radiocarbon) and its use in dating archaeological artifacts. He also studied natural tritium and its use in hydrology and geophysics.  While at the University of Chicago he performed a wide range of scientific advisory and technical consultancy work with industrial firms associated with the Institute for Nuclear Studies, as well as with the Atomic Energy Commission, defense departments, scientific organizations and other universities.  He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960 for creating the method of carbon-14 dating.
  • Joseph Mayer: A theoretical physical chemist, researcher, author and consultant, Mayer is best known for his work on the application of statistical mechanics to concepts of liquids and dense gases.  He formulated the Mayer expansion in statistical field theory, the cluster expansion method, and the Mayer-McMillan solution theory.  In 1948 he was a chairholder at the invited University of Chicago.
  • James Partington: A British physical chemist and historian of chemistry, he was a fellow and council member of the Chemical Society of London as well as the first president of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Early Chemistry, founded in 1937.  His efforts helped to lay the groundwork for the forward evolution of physical chemistry following both World Wars.  He was at an invited university, Queen Mary College in London, when he nominated Pauling.
  • George Glockler: Physical chemist at the University of Iowa who studied the electrochemistry of gases, molecular structure, and bond energies. He was also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
    • Nominated with Glenn Theodore Seaborg: Seaborg spent most of his career as an educator and research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, serving as a professor, and, between 1958 and 1961, as the university’s chancellor.  He was the principal discoverer or co-discoverer of ten elements: plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium and element 106, which, while he was still living, was named seaborgium in his honor.  He also discovered more than 100 atomic isotopes and is credited with important contributions to the chemistry of plutonium, originally as part of the Manhattan Project, where he developed the extraction process used to isolate the plutonium fuel used in the second atomic bomb.  He shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1951, awarded jointly with Edwin Mattison McMillan “for their discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements.”
      • Glocker’s first choice for awarding the prize was to Seaborg, while his second choice was Pauling.
  • László Zechmeister: Chairholder at an invited university, Caltech. Zechmeister played a major role in the rapid expansion of the use of chromatography during his years as a professor at the University of Pécs, Hungary, where worked before moving to Caltech in 1940.  He also was the author of the first comprehensive chromatography textbook.
    • Nominated with Paul Rabe: Alkaloid chemist who, while in Hamburg, Germany, succeeded in establishing the correct molecular formula for quinine and successfully synthesized it from quinotoxine.
    • Nominated with Robert Burns Woodward: American synthetic organic chemist at Harvard who is considered by many to be the preeminent organic chemist of the twentieth century, having made key contributions to the subject, especially in the synthesis of complex natural products and the determination of their molecular structure.  He showed that natural products could be synthesized by careful applications of the principles of physical organic chemistry.  In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his achievements in organic synthesis.
  • Urey (see above)
    • Nominated with Klaus Clusius: German physical chemist and professor based in Zurich who worked on the German nuclear project during the Second World War, focusing on isotope separation and heavy water production.  In 1938 he developed a thermodiffusion isotope separation tube with his younger colleague, Gerhard Dickel.  His main fields of interest were reaction kinetics, low temperature studies, and the investigation of isotopes.
    • Nominated with Gerhard Dickel: Developed a thermodiffusion isotope separation tube, in 1938, with Clusius.  He was a professor in Munich at the time of his nomination.
    • Urey’s first choice was Seaborg and J. Kennedy, while his second choice was Clusius, possibly divided with Dickel. His third choice was Pauling.
  • Byron Riegel: Organic chemist and chairholder at an invited university, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He studied oral contraceptives.
    • Nominated with Roger Adams: American organic chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign best known for the Adams catalyst.  His furthered the understanding of the composition of naturally occurring substances such as complex vegetable oils and plant alkaloids.  Adams’ research represents a high point for structural organic chemistry, particularly on natural products, before the Instrumental Revolution and before the emergence of physical organic chemistry as a major field.
    • Nominated with Arne W. Tiselius: In 1947 Tiselius became a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry and served as vice-president of the Nobel Foundation.  He was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his work on electrophoresis and adsorption analysis and especially for his discovery of the complex nature of the proteins occurring in blood serum.” He discovered the governing factors, and developed a very elegant and accurate optical method, for the quantitative measurement of the diffusion of water vapor and other gases into zeolite crystals.
    • Riegel’s first choice was Pauling, followed by Adams and then Tiselius. His fourth choice was Glenn Seaborg, and his fifth was Vladimir Ipatieff.



Now Accepting Applications for 2016 Resident Scholars

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 ninth 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 three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500), 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 29, 2016.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged primarily 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 (PDF link):

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’s Nobel Peace Prize


New York Times, October 11, 1963.

[Part 3 of 6]

On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling received word that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In this, he became the first person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes, a distinction that lives on today.

He and his wife, Ava Helen, were at Deer Flat Ranch – a property that the couple had actually purchased with the funds from Pauling’s 1954 Chemistry Prize – when the Peace Nobel was announced.  Pauling was notified that morning by his daughter Linda, and the unexpected news rendered him speechless.  The Big Sur ranch itself lacked a telephone, and Pauling wound up holding court at a nearby ranger station, granting several interviews and answering calls of congratulation. As reporters began to descend on the Paulings’ rural property, Ava Helen and Linus decided that it would be best to return to Pasadena to deal with whatever awaited them.



Linus Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, 1963.

As noted in Alfred Nobel’s will, a prize was to be set aside each year for “the person who shall have done the most or best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace.”  Pauling won this award in 1963 – receiving the prize that was held over and not awarded in 1962 – for his work on nuclear disarmament and his contributions to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, an agreement between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union that went into effect on the same day that the Nobel award was announced.

The story of why Pauling received the 1962 prize is interesting, and recounted by Pauling himself.  In a confidential “note to self” that he penned on November 21, 1962 – about eleven months before his Peace Prize announcement – Pauling documented a meeting that he had held that day with Gunnar Jahn.  Jahn was chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee from 1941 to 1966.

In his memo, Pauling wrote

On the morning of Tuesday 13 Nov., Gunnar Jahn telephoned me at the Bristol Hotel, Oslo, and asked us to come to his office at 11 A.M.  There he said to Ava Helen and me, in the presence of his secretary, Mrs. Elna Poppe, “I tried to get the Committee [of which he is the Chairman] to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to you [L.P.]; I think that you are the most outstanding peace worker in the world. But only one of the four would agree with me. I then said to them ‘If you won’t give it to Pauling, there won’t be any Peace Prize this year.'”

And indeed, there was not.

Pauling received two nominations for the Peace Prize in 1961, as well as one more in 1962 and another in 1963.  The year that he received the Prize, he was nominated by Gunnar Garbo, a Norwegian journalist, politician and ambassador.  And although many feel that Linus should have been nominated for the Peace Prize alongside Ava Helen – his long-time collaborator and inspiration in their shared peace effort – none of his Peace nominations was submitted as a split award.


Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

In a marked contrast from his Chemistry Prize, Pauling’s Peace award was not celebrated domestically with a lavish ceremony.  By 1963, Pauling’s activities in the peace realm had led to increased tensions at Caltech, and across the Institute, response to his Peace Prize was mixed at best.  His own research group was overjoyed at the honor, but the Caltech administration was unusually quiet concerning the prize and did not plan any sort of celebration in Pauling’s honor.

Although Linus and Ava Helen both felt that the Prize was vindication enough of the work they had done and the positions that they had taken, neither was at all satisfied with how the situation had unfolded at Caltech.  With the prize money from the Peace award forthcoming, the duo now had the flexibility to leave the Institute and pursue their work elsewhere.  Pauling announced his decision to do exactly this in October, just a week after finding out that he had won the prize, and after forty-one years of employment at Caltech.


By early December, although he had already cleared out his office, colleagues in the Biology department invited Pauling back to campus for a small gathering over coffee to honor his Nobel Peace Prize. This event proved to be the only recognition of Pauling’s achievement hosted at the Institute.



Image published in Arbeiderbladet, December 11, 1963. Annotaions by Linus Pauling.

Once in Scandinavia, the festivities likewise differed some from what he had experienced in Stockholm in 1954.  Pauling was awarded the Peace Prize on December 10, 1963 at Oslo University in Norway, an event attended by King Olav VI, Crown Prince Harald, and scores of additional Norwegian leaders and diplomats.  (In his will, Nobel decreed that the Peace Prize ceremony be held separately from the other Nobel Prize awards, which take place in Stockholm, Sweden.)

Also presented at the ceremony was the 1963 Peace Prize, granted jointly to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of the Red Cross Societies.  The International Committee had won the Peace Prize twice previously, in 1917 and 1944, and their 1963 centennial played a role in the selection of the two groups for the prize. As Pauling is the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, so too is the Red Cross unique in having been fundamental to four Peace Prizes – three received or shared by the organization, and another through affiliation with the group’s founder, Henry Dunant, co-honored with the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

At the ceremony, Pauling was called out for his campaign “not only against the testing of nuclear weapons, not only against the spread of these armaments, not only against their very use, but against all warfare as a means of solving international conflicts.”  Gunnar Jahn – Pauling’s champion from a year before – further explained that he was the natural choice for the 1963 award, due to the successful negotiation of the Partial Test Ban Treaty that July in Moscow.


Verdensgang (Olso), December 14, 1963.

Despite Jahn’s certainty on the matter, Pauling’s nomination had been made in the face of severe criticism, mostly centering on claims that Pauling was a Communist, that President John F. Kennedy should have received the award, or that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a better choice.  In his acceptance speech, Pauling explained that he believed the award to be a recognition not only of his work but also that “of the many other people who strive to bring hope for permanent peace to a world that now contains nuclear weapons.”

For Pauling, his wife was most prominent among the multitudes who had worked alongside him to pursue peace.  He made special note of her contributions in his formal Response at the Nobel event.

I wish that Alfred Nobel had not been a lonely man. I have not been lonely. Since 1923 I have had always at my side my wife, Ava Helen Pauling. In the fight for peace and against oppression she has been my constant and courageous companion and coworker. On her behalf, as well as my own, I express my thanks to Alfred Nobel and to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to me.



Pauling’s Nobel Peace medal, obverse.

Designed by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the Nobel Peace Prize medal features an image of Alfred Nobel that is different from the other medals, though it is accompanied by the same inscription – “Alfred Nobel” and his years of birth and death.  The reverse side of the medal portrays three men forming a fraternal bond and is inscribed with the words Pro pace et fraternitate gentium, which can be translated as “For the peace and brotherhood of men.”  On the outer edge, the words “Prix Nobel de la Paix”, the relevant year, and the name of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate are engraved.


Pauling’s Peace medal, reverse.

All Nobel Prize medals are accompanied by a diploma and a letter certifying the amount of the given year’s monetary award.  The cash prize in 1962 was $50,000, or approximately $386,204.00 in today’s dollars.  This sum amounted to roughly three years of Pauling’s Caltech salary.


Pauling’s Nobel Peace certificate.



New York Times, October 11, 1963.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, delivered a day after his Response, Pauling compared the desire of Alfred Nobel himself to create “a substance or a machine with such terrible power of mass destruction that war would thereby be made impossible forever,” to the hydrogen bomb against which the peace movement was working in 1963.  And though the creation and use of the atomic bomb during the Second World War had not led to peace, Pauling remained hopeful that peace would be attained, as nuclear weapons had now made a survivable war impossible.

“I believe that there will never again be a great world war,” he said, “a war in which the terrible weapons involving nuclear fission and nuclear fusion would be used.” Pauling felt that no dispute could justify the use of such a weapon, and that the threat of larger-scale retaliation would prevent first strikes.  This sentiment was present in many of the speeches and articles that he penned during this period.  In his Nobel lecture, Pauling expanded on the idea by explaining that

The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place.

And just as scientists had played a role in the development of weapons of war, so too would they be central to promoting peace in the nuclear age, because of the power that their informed opinions carried and the research that they could conduct to show just how harmful these bombs were.

In this, Pauling specifically mentioned the Pugwash Conferences series, which he believed “permitted the scientific and practical aspects of disarmament to be discussed informally in a thorough, penetrating, and productive way, and have led to some valuable proposals.”  Because of this, he felt the conferences – with which he had been active – to have been very helpful in seeing the Partial Test Ban Treaty through to ratification.


Stockholmns Tidinigen, December 19, 1963.

But there was still much work to do, in part because many people had not yet accepted disarmament as a valid route to maintaining peace.  For Pauling, disarmament was only a piece of the solution.  He felt that, for one, China, as the world’s most populous nation, needed to be accepted into the global community and recognized as a nation.  Doing so would allow the Chinese People’s Republic, a nuclear state, to join the disarmament agreement already signed by the United States and Soviet Union.

Pauling further proposed a joint system of control for nuclear stockpiles, one which would require consent from the United Nations before a weapon could be used.  While admittedly a lofty ambition, Pauling believed that “even a small step in the direction of this proposal, such as the acceptance of United Nations observers in the control stations of the nuclear powers” would decrease the probability of war, and doubly so if the proposal was paired with a system of inspection aimed at preventing the further production of biological or chemical weapons.  Advancements in this direction, Pauling believed, not only improved the odds for the long-term survival of the human race, but would also usher in a better life for all humans through the improvement of social, political, and economic systems.

Pauling’s Nobel Chemistry Prize



Image is captioned: “Prof. Linus Pauling stole the show at the Nobel banquet with his cheerful laugh.” Credit: MT söndag, 1954.

[Part 2 of 6]

Nominated at least seventy times for prizes in chemistry, medicine and peace, Linus Pauling is the only person to have ever won two unshared Nobel Prizes. The Chemistry Prize, received in 1954, would be his first; he received the second prize in 1963 for Peace.

By the time that Pauling won the Chemistry Nobel in 1954, many believed the prize to be long overdue. Pauling himself had started to feel that he might never win one because his most important work to that point comprised a body of research rather than the singular specific discovery for which Nobel Prizes had usually been awarded.  Pauling also knew that he had been nominated in 1953 by Albert Szent-Györgyi, but did not receive the support of the Nobel Committee.

News of Pauling’s Chemistry Prize spurred a huge influx of correspondence and congratulations from colleagues and friends, both locally and globally.  The award ceremony also prompted a world tour that lasted almost five months, beginning with two weeks of sightseeing in Norway and Sweden as a family.


Image is captioned: “Prof. Linus Pauling stole the show at the Nobel banquet with his cheerful laugh.” Credit: MT söndag, 1954.

Prior to 1954, Pauling had been nominated for the Chemistry Prize nearly every year beginning in 1940.  And although he was nominated several times to share a prize with various colleagues, these individuals were not always people with whom he had worked, but also included fellow scientists who had focused on similar projects as had Pauling.

In 1954 Pauling was nominated thirteen times for the Chemistry Prize, twice with a partner: German organic chemist Hans Lebrecht Meerwein and American organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward. Five of the 1954 nominators had also submitted Pauling’s name in preceding years, colleagues including Edward Doisy, Jacques Hadamard, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Arne Tiselius, and Karl Freudenberg.  New and notable nominations in 1954 came from French chemists Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and the American astronomer Harlow Shapley.

In his will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that one prize was to go to “the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement.”  In 1954 Pauling was honored “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.” Pauling’s prize marked the first time that the Nobel Committee had recognized a collection of work rather than “the most important chemical discovery or improvement” of a given year.


Pauling learned that he was to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on November 3, 1954, just 45 minutes before giving a lecture at Cornell University. He recalled later that he “had a little trouble with the seminar.” Soon after finding out that he had won the Nobel, congratulations began to come from his nominators, who were colleagues and friends from around the world.  Hundreds of letters and telegrams soon followed.

The tenth American to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Pauling was honored by the Nobel Committee for his study of the structure of matter and of the seemingly invisible forces that hold together the building blocks of all matter. When asked for his thoughts on this work, Pauling first explained that it was the support and environment that fellow scientists and collaborators had created at Caltech that helped him to win the prize. He likewise noted that he had been able to develop his theories as a result of many years worth of work – by him and others – on x-ray crystallography and the behavior of electronically irradiated chemicals.


Stage presentation of “The Road to Stockholm: The Appalling Life of Linus Pauling,” 1954. Verner Shomaker and Ken Hedberg stand near the microphone.

The Paulings began their trip to Stockholm with a bon voyage party thrown by Caltech faculty on December 3rd.  The gala was held at the Caltech Athenaeum and attended by 353 people – the largest dinner served there up to that point.  In addition to a meal, the evening’s events included an ode to Pauling performed by a muse on the harp.

Afterward, the dinner attendees joined others at Caltech’s Culbertson Hall for a showcase celebrating Pauling.  This lighthearted affair included the performance of a skit titled “The Road to Stockholm,” a humorous tale of Pauling’s scientific work and life as performed by Pauling’s colleagues, who called themselves the “Chemistry-Biology Stock Company.”  Afterward, a buoyant Pauling told the media that the event had been the “high point of my life.”

Once in Scandinavia, Ava Helen and Linus were accompanied by their children Linus Jr. (joined by his wife, Anita), Peter, Linda, and Crellin. For the duration of their visit, the entire Pauling family found themselves on prominent display in the Swedish press.


From an article, “Festivitas och Gladje Kring Nobelbanketten”, Dagens Nyheter, December 12, 1954.

A total of six Nobel Prizes can potentially be presented in any given year: one each in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and the economic sciences.  And in 1954 all but the Physics Prize – awarded to Max Born and Walter Bothe for their “fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function” – were granted to Americans.  Laureates alongside Pauling included Ernest Hemingway (Literature), and Drs. John Enders, Thomas Wellers, and Frederick Robbins (Medicine).  In 1954 no Peace Prize was awarded, and the Economics Prize was not established until 1968.

Pauling described the Nobel Ceremony in Stockholm as “very impressive…it must be one of the most impressive ceremonies in the modern world.” The pageantry marking Pauling’s decoration began on December 9th, with a reception hosted by the Royal High Chamberlain of Sweden, who was also President of the Nobel Foundation.  This gathering was followed by a formal dinner hosted by the Secretary of the Swedish Academy.


The following day, the laureates received their Nobel Prizes from King Gustav Adolph at the Stockholm Concert Hall. Following that was the Nobel Dinner, held in the Gold Room of the Stockholm City Hall. The dinner coincided with a torchlight parade organized by Swedish university students, and Pauling was honored to deliver a response to the students on behalf of all the year’s Nobel laureates, in which he famously encouraged the students to always think for themselves.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture was delivered the next day, on December 11th.  Titled “Modern Structural Chemistry,” the talk outlined Pauling’s advancements in structural and inorganic chemistry.  Pauling situated this work within a broader time frame to both add context to his own achievements in the field and to connect them with the work of others. As he interpreted the historical evolution of modern structural chemistry, he explained

The development of the theory of molecular structure and the nature of the chemical bond during the past twenty-five years has been in considerable part empirical – based upon the facts of chemistry – but with the interpretation of these facts greatly influenced by quantum mechanical principles and concepts.

He concluded his remarks with a prophetic statement on what he saw coming in the future:

We may, I believe, anticipate that the chemist of the future who is interested in the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and other complex substances with high molecular weight will come to rely upon a new structural chemistry, involving precise geometrical relationships among the atoms in the molecules and the rigorous application of the new structural principles, and that great progress will be made, through this technique, in the attack, by chemical methods, on the problems of biology and medicine.

His lecture delivered, Pauling and his wife rounded out their Nobel adventure at the royal palace as dinner guests of Sweden’s King and Queen.


The Nobel Chemistry medal depicts nature, in the form of the goddess Isis, emerging from clouds and holding a cornucopia in her arms.  The veil that would cover her face is held back by the Genius of Science.  The inscription on the medal reads: Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes which, loosely translated, means “And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.”  (Word for word: “inventions enhance life which is beautified through art.”) Below the goddess and Genius, the name of the laureate is engraved on a plate adjacent to the text “REG. ACAD. SCIENT. SUEC.” which stands for The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The medal itself was designed by Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg.  The obverse side of the medal depicts Alfred Nobel in profile, and the years of his birth and death.


Accompanying Pauling’s medal was a Nobel diploma and a monetary award.  In 1954 the prize award amount was $35,000, or approximately $305,517.00 in today’s dollars.  When asked how he would spend it, Pauling responded, “most scientists have plenty of old bills to pay.”

Following the ceremonies in Sweden, Ava Helen and Linus toured the world for almost five months.  They spent Christmas in Bethlehem and later traveled all throughout Asia, visiting India and Japan in particular, and meeting with colleagues at universities and elsewhere. Pauling believed that it was especially important for him to visit India as, earlier in the year, he had been denied a passport to travel to the subcontinent, though he had been invited personally by India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Paulings were well-received throughout their world travels, and they returned home from their trip even more determined to fight for peace and global disarmament. This work which would eventually lead to another Nobel Prize, accepted some nine years later.

The Nobel Prizes: History and Mechanics


Alfred Nobel.

[Ed Note: Immersed as we are in the sheer volume and diversity of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, it is sometimes easy for us as a staff to overlook the fact that Linus Pauling remains the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes.  As we begin our ninth year of blogging, we’ll be addressing Pauling’s extraordinary accomplishment with a six-part series.  The first three parts will focus on the history and mechanics of the Nobel Prize, and the story of Pauling’s receipt of his two prizes in 1954 and 1963.  The latter three parts will discuss those individuals who nominated Pauling for his awards, data that has recently made available by the Nobel Foundation.]

Linus Pauling is the only person who has received two unshared Nobel Prizes, one in Chemistry (1954) and another for Peace (1962, awarded in 1963).  Three other individuals have won two Nobels, but they shared the prizes. These three additional double laureates are Marie Curie (also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize), Frederick Sanger and John Bardeen.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and businessman who developed a safe way to detonate dynamite. One of his primary strengths was his ability to combine the imaginative and explorative mind of the scientist and inventor with the forward thinking of the industrialist.  Nobel was also very interested in social and peace-related issues, and held what many considered to be radical views in his era. He likewise maintained a great interest in literature and wrote his own poetry and dramatic works.


Portrait of Alfred Nobel by Emil Österman, 1915

Before he died, Nobel decided that the great wealth that he had accumulated over a lifetime of work should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”  The Nobel Prizes thus became an extension and a fulfillment of his life-long interests. After many years spent traveling and establishing laboratories in twenty different countries, Alfred Nobel died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896.  He was sixty-three years old.

When Nobel’s will was unsealed, it came as a surprise to many that his fortune – equivalent to $265 million in 2015 dollars – was to be used to endow prizes honoring high achievement in the arts, sciences, and peace activism.  In his last will and testament, he wrote that his estate:

shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind…which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

He further directed that

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes, no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

The executors of Nobel’s will were two young engineers, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist.  The duo set about forming the Nobel Foundation as an organization to take care of the financial assets left by Nobel for the purposes that he had stipulated, and to coordinate the work of the prize-awarding bodies. This process was not without its difficulties, especially since the will was contested by Nobel’s relatives and questioned by authorities in various countries.


The main task of the Nobel Foundation is to safeguard the financial base of the Nobel Prizes, and to administer the work connected to the selection of the Nobel Laureates.

The nomination process is slightly different for each prize, due to the different institutions and hosting countries involved.  In September or October of the year prior to a prize being awarded, nomination forms are sent out to qualified people to complete confidentially.  Approximately 3,000 people are invited to nominate each year in chemistry; the quantity of nominators varies for the other subject areas.  The requirements for a qualified nominator also vary between awards, but in the case of the chemistry prize they include:

  1. Swedish and foreign members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  2. Members of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry and Physics.
  3. Previous Nobel Laureates in Chemistry or Physics.
  4. Permanent professors in Chemistry at universities and institutes of technology in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
  5. Chair holders at six selected universities or colleges selected by the Academy of Science, which together ensure an adequate distribution of perspectives over different countries and centers of learning.

The Academy may also invite nominations from other scientists whom they see fit to submit names.


The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, 2007 Nobel Foundation image. Photo: Hans Mehlin

Nominations for the chemistry prize are returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, where the five members of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry consult with a collection of experts to vet the names that they have received. The pool of names under consideration often number between 250-300 individuals, due to multiple nominators submitting the same names.

After consulting with experts from March through May, the committee then puts together a report by the end of August.  After the report is completed, the committee submits its recommendations for the prize to the Swedish Academy in September.  These recommendations are discussed by members of the Chemistry Section of the Academy at two meetings.  Nobel laureates are then chosen in early October through a majority vote.  This vote is final and without appeal, and the winner is then announced.  The Nobel laureates receive their prizes on December 10 at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The prize consists of a Nobel medal and diploma, as well as a document insuring the cash award associated with the prize.


The Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, 2008. Nobel Foundation image. Photo: Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen

The Nobel Peace Prize varies slightly in its nomination process.  For one, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for Nobel Peace Prize selection.  For another, a letter of invitation to nominate is not required and the qualifications of a nominator also differ.  Nominators must be one of the following:

  1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states.
  2. Members of international courts.
  3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law, or theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes.
  4. Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace.
  5. Board members of organizations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  6. Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
  7. Former advisers to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

For the Peace prize, there is no standardized form for nominations due to an understanding of the many ways that a nominee’s qualities can be described.  However, nominations must include the name of the candidate; an explanation as to why the person or organization is deemed worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize; and the name, title, and professional affiliation of the nominator.

After receiving the nominations submitted before February 1, the Norwegian Nobel Committee prepares a short list of names by assessing the nominations’ validity and the candidates’ work.  Nominations received after February 1 are included in the pool for the following year.

At its first meeting, the Peace Prize committee’s permanent secretary presents the list of candidates, which can be reviewed and added to. After this, the nomination process is considered closed, and the short list is prepared.  Through August, advisers review the short list, which usually consists of twenty to thirty names, and create reports detailing their evaluation of the candidates under consideration.  Advisers can include Norwegian university professors maintaining broad and varied expertise in relevant subject areas.  When necessary, reports are also requested from other Norwegian and foreign experts.  The Nobel Committee examines these reports in order to determine the most appropriate candidate and decides if any more information is needed.

In another difference from the Chemistry prize, the Peace Prize decision strives to be unanimous and is determined at the final meeting of the committee, held in October just before the prizes are announced.  Just as with chemistry, the Peace Prize laureate is chosen and announced in early October, with the decision being final and without appeal.  Though the ceremony for the Peace Prize takes place at City Hall in Oslo, Norway, it too is held on the tenth of December, the date that all Nobel awards are presented. As with the chemistry laureates, recipients of the Peace Prize receive a medal and diploma, as well as a certificate confirming the prize amount.  For both prizes, nomination information is made not available for until fifty years following a nomination.

Remembering Henry Taube


Four Nobel Prize-winning chemists with a connection to Stanford University. From left, Arthur Kornberg, Paul Flory, Henry Taube, and Linus Pauling. This photo was taken in 1983 on the day that Taube received notification of his having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

[Ed Note: This is our final post for 2015.  Thanks for reading and please check back in early January for more!]

This month marks the 32nd anniversary of Henry Taube’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, awarded for ‘Electron Transfer between Metal Complexes.’ His seminal paper on the subject was 30 years old when he received the Nobel Prize, but the correlation that he described in it remained the predominant theory at the time of his receipt of the Nobel medal. Taube would have turned 100 this past November 30th , 2015. He died in 2005 in his home in Palo Alto, California at 89 years old.

Linus Pauling, for many years a friend of Taube, wrote to him in 1983 to congratulate him on his prize, calling it a “fine honor.” Pauling also kept a newspaper clipping announcing Taube’s Nobel in a collection of his personal memorabilia. In it, Taube attributed his success in Stockholm to a “domino theory” of scientific awards: once they started coming, you just seemed to get more of them. “I have to pay for it by giving a speech,” Taube said.  And indeed, Taube received numerous other decorations, including the Priestley Medal in 1985.

Born in the small town of Neudorf, Saskatchewan, Henry Taube was the youngest of four boys. The son of German immigrants who moved from the Ukraine and settled in Canada in 1911, Taube reflected fondly on his experiences growing up, noting

Certainly, there is nothing about my first 21 years in Saskatchewan, taken in the context of those times, that I would wish to be changed. The advantages that I enjoyed include: the marvelous experience of growing up on a farm, which taught me an appreciation of nature, and taught me also to discipline myself to get necessary jobs done.

Two years after the completion of his PhD at UC Berkeley in 1940, Taube became a naturalized citizen of the United States. As a young academic, he began studying the chemistry and photochemistry of non-metallic oxidants such as ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and halogens, and their reactions with a variety of inorganic and organic substances. Taube also worked on the subject of electron transfer in chemical reactions for most of his professional life, stating in his Nobel lecture that,

by an accident of history, I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, about the time the first natal stirrings of [this] subject occurred, and at a place where those stirring were most active.

His interest in the measurement of the rates of self-exchange reactions was shared by many, but not reflected in research or development for years to come. Students who might have harbored plans to carry out such experiments, Taube later pointed out, became engaged in war-related activities instead.

Taube’s first academic appointment was as an assistant professor at Cornell, where he engaged in the study of oxidation-reduction reactions, or redox reactions. In 1943 he began his correspondence with Linus Pauling, asking him to visit Cornell and deliver a lecture on antibody reactions, one of Pauling’s areas of specialty at the time. Pauling declined, stating that he would not be traveling in the vicinity of Ithaca any time soon. Taube tried again to meet with Pauling while on a trip to UCLA in 1949, but Pauling was out of his office.

It is something of an irony that Taube, anxious to connect with such an eminent figure in chemistry, would become the chair of a department where Pauling would work later in life. While the pair did not have much luck connecting in the 1940s, forty years later they would regard one another as close companions.


As an associate professor at the University of Chicago, Taube studied charge transfer complexes, describing metal-ligand bonds in terms of molecular orbital language. As a result, the new field of mixed-valence compounds began to develop. Taube’s continued study in this area united the divergent disciplines of classical coordination chemistry and organometallic chemistry, bringing inorganic chemistry into a more modern age.

Taube’s contributions were notable as confusion between thermodynamic and kinetic stability of coordination compounds had plagued coordination chemistry for decades, hindering theoretical advancement in the field. Classical coordination chemistry was created by Alfred Werner in 1893, with little groundbreaking work in the area come to pass in the four decades following. At this same time, organic and biological chemistry were progressing in exciting ways, in no small part due to work being conducted by Linus Pauling. Indeed, in organic chemistry, Pauling’s influence is ubiquitous: the mechanisms of organic substitution reactions, the discovery of biochemical cycles and molecular disease, the role of vitamins and antibiotics – all were touched by his genius. But for inorganic chemistry, even Pauling’s valence bond theory did not prompt advancement. This all began to change with Henry Taube.

By shifting focus from classical coordination chemistry toward the mechanisms of redox reactions, Taube affected an important shift that revitalized inorganic chemistry. Specifically, Taube established a dichotomy between inert and labile complexes, using valence bond theory to frame the definitions of these metal ions. The effect on inorganic chemistry was so monumental, it has since been dubbed by some as the “Taube Revolution.” Published in 1952, Taube’s “Rates and Mechanism of Substitution Reactions in Inorganic Complexes in Solution” is a foundational work. This was an important personal year for Taube as well; it was the year that he married his wife, Mary. They would have four children; Karl, Heinrich, Linda and Marianna.

By the early 1970s, Taube was chairman of the Chemistry Department at Stanford University, where Pauling too was a faculty member. When Pauling was reclassified as an emeritus member of the faculty in 1972, a memo from Taube to Calvin Quate, the associate dean of humanities and sciences at Stanford, made his opinion of Pauling’s situation clear: “Linus Pauling’s contributions to our department are much valued,” Taube clarified for Quate. “It is the intention of the Executive Committee to recommend reappointment on a year-by-year basis for as long as he continues to be effective in supervising a research program.”

The following year, Pauling wrote to Taube to express concern about his position. In his response, Taube pointed out that, though now classified as a professor emeritus, the administration’s action did not change Pauling’s current appointment as regular faculty, which would remain in force until 1974. After that time, as indicated by Taube in his memo to Quate, Pauling would continue to be reappointed as long as he remained “productive in scientific work.” Taube added, “I feel confident that the change in nominal status next fall will not interfere with your scientific program.”

Over the years, the two men enjoyed a lively correspondence on many issues related to work and pleasure. Taube sent Pauling reprints of his papers, and asked Pauling just before receiving his Nobel Prize, “When you first formulated your ideas on back bonding, did you have any inkling of what its ramifications might be?” (in this, Taube was referring to his own work with redox reactions in metal complexes.) Taube added, “After things settle down, post-Stockholm, Mary and I hope to get together with you again socially.”

Taube also referred to Pauling as the living person whom he most admired, and the two saw eye to eye on many issues. In particular, Taube used his position as a Nobel laureate to argue for educational reform and nuclear disarmament, which he saw as the country’s most important issues in the 1980s. “I’m appalled not that the general public tends to be rather ignorant,” Taube explained, “but they don’t even care about the scientific issues.” All informed citizens, Taube thought, needed to know the basics, and in this he agreed with Pauling. “The training that science teachers get simply isn’t adequate for the job in the elementary schools,” he said. “The solution is to improve science teaching for teachers, and pay them a wage commensurate with their responsibilities.”

taube in lab

Though in many ways Taube is to inorganic chemistry what Pauling was to the organic side, Taube’s work has also been described as setting the stage for electron transfer studies in organic areas, including peptides, proteins, and other complex biomolecules –  all areas of study crucial to many of Pauling’s interests. This is presumably one reason why Pauling recruited Taube to support the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

The connection between Taube and the Institute began very early on, in 1972, when Pauling suggested to him that some of Taube’s graduate students might be interested in also working on orthomolecular studies with either himself or his assistant, Arthur B. Robinson. Twelve years later, in 1984, Pauling wrote to Taube asking him to join the Institute’s board of associates. Taube accepted, despite the fact that the Institute was involved in a very public battle with the Mayo Clinic, one based on what Pauling described in his letter as, “a thoroughly misleading account of [the Institute’s] work.”

In 1987 Pauling asked his friend to become even more involved, writing that he was pleased to tell him that the Board of Trustees had authorized him to ask Taube to join their rank and file. Taube accepted this position as well, but ultimately resigned in 1989, stating that he could “provide little help in solving the kind of [largely financial] problem that the Institute faces,” and that he believed he was “usurping an opportunity for service which others, of greater influence in financial or medico-scientific circles, could better fill.” Pauling was disappointed and disagreed with the decision, but responded simply that it would not otherwise impact Taube’s connection to the Institute.

Henry Taube’s love of chemistry and the impact that he made on the field seemed sometimes unbelievable to the man himself. Humble by nature, Taube offered in his Nobel lecture that he had only, “focused rather narrowly on electron transfer reactions between metal complexes.”

While Pauling and many others recognized and cited the importance of his work in developing a general principle of electron transfer, Taube remained much more cautious in his assessment. The principles that he had derived, Taube pointed out, manifested differently in different materials and reactions. Consequently, the descriptive chemistry of such relationships could be quite different.

Nonetheless, Taube saw these differing manifestations as an exciting challenge, describing them in his Nobel lecture as “the fabric of chemistry.”  In this love of scientific inquiry and the quest for a better understanding of the natural world, Taube was once again reunited with his close friend, Linus Pauling.



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