Pauling and the Dutch Stellingen

Linus Pauling in lecture, 1935.

Linus Pauling in lecture, 1935.

LP: One interesting thing that you may not know is that I guess I introduced the proposition system into the United States.

Q: Proposition system?

LP: Yes, in doctor’s examinations.

Q: Oh, the Dutch theses?

LP: The Dutch Stellingen. In 1935, I think it was, I’d been talking about these propositions. The doctor’s examinations were pretty boring, for the faculty anyway. One of my students named Harker, David Harker, volunteered to prepare some propositions. So I said, ‘all right,’ and he brought in about four propositions. This was such a success that the division of chemistry and chemical engineering here required from then on that students prepare and submit a set of propositions. Then, when Harker went to Johns Hopkins, he got them to introduce the system there. Then other students went to Berkeley and various other places so that it’s rather widespread. It even has spread to some physics departments. I wrote a paper about it. One of my papers is on the use of propositions in doctor’s examinations.

Q: Do you encourage the type that Goudsmit used in which he threw in one or two about Egyptian hieroglyphics?

LP: Yes, what the Dutch called the 13th proposition, we encourage that too. One of my students had a proposition that the Southern Pacific, instead of having trains over the Tehachapi, should run buses from Los Angeles to Bakersfield connecting with the train there; and a few years later they did. One student had a 13th proposition: ‘It would be possible for the chemistry division to give two more graduate fellowships without any increase in the budget.’ When he was asked, ‘How could that be done?’ he said, ‘Fire both of the janitors in the building and hire one good one.’ He was complaining about the janitors. Well, I went down into the room in which our seminars used to be given, and opened the door. It was dark; I turned on the light, and there were the janitors sitting in the dark. Just sitting there.

-Linus Pauling, interview with John L. Heilbron,  March 1964

For more facets of Linus Pauling, see Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker, now available in paperback from the Oregon State University Press.

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