The Pauling Centenary Conference

The date February 28, 2001 is meaningful to many residents of the Pacific Northwest.  At 10:54 AM that morning, the Nisqually earthquake, a magnitude 6.8 temblor located northwest of Olympia, Washington, shook the earth beneath the greater Seattle-Tacoma area and ultimately caused over $1 billion in damage.

Some 200 miles south in Corvallis, faint signs of the earthquake were noticed.  In the lobby of the LaSells Stewart Center, for instance, observers noted coats on a coat rack mysteriously swaying.  At the time, few thought much of what they were seeing however, given that an important local event (if something short of seismic) occupied the attentions of most.  February 28, 2001 was the one-hundredth anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth and the LaSells Stewart Center was the site of a day-long conference honoring Pauling’s memory.


“In 1986, just before [Lloyd] Jeffress died, Pauling wrote him a letter in which he caught him up on the events of the past year. The last paragraph of the letter related a recent article that Pauling had published in Nature magazine, which had stirred up controversy in the scientific community. A reporter had asked Pauling, ‘Do you have a liking for controversy?’ ‘No,’ replied Pauling. ‘I have a liking for the truth.’ This phrase, ‘a liking for the truth,’ and its surrogate implications of Pauling’s passion for discovery, even in the face of controversy, is a theme of this conference, and we hope that you will be enlightened and entertained by what is to follow.”

-Cliff Mead, centenary conference introductory remarks

“A Liking for the Truth: Truth and Controversy in the Work of Linus Pauling” assembled a multifaceted group of speakers who directly and indirectly reflected upon Pauling’s legacy as a scientist, activist and human being.  The day’s keynote speaker was Dr. Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, and the recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  Zewail’s topic was the evolution of femtoscience, the study of atomic behaviors that occur in very short periods of time, a breathtaking field of research that allows scientists to, in Zewail’s words, “see bonds and atoms.”

Whereas Zewail spoke of time, another of the day’s presentations, by crystallographer and long-time Pauling family friend Dr. Jack Dunitz, focused on space.  Dunitz, Pauling and many others enmeshed in the practice of crystallography shared a deep interest in developing theories governing the rules that underlie “closest-packing” in molecules, work that Pauling and Max Delbrück extended into the realm of biology through their theory of molecular complementarity.

dunitz

Jack Dunitz at a Caltech graduate student outing, ca. 1948.

Two Pauling biographers were likewise involved in the centenary activities.  Tom Hager spoke eloquently of the real world consequences that enveloped the Paulings as their peace work assumed international prominence.  Dr. Robert Paradowski reflected upon a turbulent period of the Paulings lives as a young couple, as the pair toured through Europe during Linus’s Guggenheim studies in 1926-1927.

Perhaps the day’s most broadly interesting talk, however, was delivered by Linus Pauling, Jr., the eldest of the four Pauling children.  Recalling memories as varied as Christmas traditions, the family cars and an eventful restaurant meal, Linus Jr. shed insight into a world hidden from even the closest of colleagues and most meticulous of biographers.  In the video excerpt below, Linus Jr. recounts the details of a cherished family tradition – regular vacations to the Painted Canyon desert.

Transcribed video of the Pauling Centenary Conference is available here.

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