“Dr. Linus Pauling is the man for me / He makes violent changes in my chemistry / Oh, fie, when he rolls his eyes / All my atoms ionize.”
– Chemistry-Biology Stock Company, C.I.T.. Song lyrics from “The Road to Stockholm.” 1954.
Since Linus Pauling’s revolutionary work in chemistry in the early 1930s and the subsequent publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, the scientific community had been anticipating his receipt of the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, his efforts went unrewarded by the Nobel community. While his name appeared as a nominee on more than one occasion, the honor managed to elude him. Pauling believed he had failed to win the award because he had never made a single major discovery. Instead, his achievements were a compilation of discoveries over the course of several decades. The Nobel Prize Committee, according to Alfred Nobel’s will, could not award the Prize for a body of work – it had to be for the single most important discovery in a given year.
In 1954 Pauling was shocked to discover that he had, in fact, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The Nobel Committee had given him the award for “research into the nature of the chemical bond…and its application to the elucidation of complex substances.” The Committee had broken precedent and given Pauling an award for his life’s work.
In honor of Pauling’s achievement, the Caltech faculty hosted an enormous dinner celebration. 350 faculty members and guests crowded into Caltech’s Athenaeum for a dinner which was accompanied by quips from Dr. Norman Davison, the night’s master of ceremonies, and a harp solo by a toga-clad faculty member. After the opening festivities, the crowd transferred to another Caltech building where they were treated to a series of hilarious parodies created by Pauling’s colleagues.
The performances, collectively titled “The Road to Stockholm,” included a number of songs, skits, and speeches. Much of the night’s entertainment was masterminded by a young humanities professor, Kent Clark and British post-doctorate Ted Harold. The two men were responsible for such inventive songs as “Pauling’s Courses” and “The Gates and Crellin Laboratory” which declared,
If you have an intuition that is clear and keen, and you love to pound your fingers on the desk machine
If you are fond of polyhedra and the way they pack, and for first approximations you have got the knack
Then the only place in the world to be, is the Gates and Crellin Laboratories of Chemistry.
Listen: “The Road to Stockholm – Crystallography by LP”
The students and faculty spent the evening lampooning Pauling’s discoveries, loudly expounding on his achievements, and gently poking fun at his passport troubles. At the close of the festivities, Pauling took his place on stage and briefly lectured the audience on the academic environment and his newest research. He then heartily thanked the performers and the audience, declaring the event to be “the high point of my life.”
Ken Hedberg, currently a part of OSU’s chemistry department, was at Caltech during the celebration. He performed at Pauling’s dinner as a member of the chorus. He recalls Ava Helen and Linus sitting in the front row, highly entertained by the performances. “We,” he says, “all had a great deal of fun.”
Read more about this event here or visit this narrative page on the website “Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History.”