Emile Zuckerkandl, 1922-2013

Pauling and Zuckerkandl in Japan, 1955.

Pauling and Zuckerkandl in Japan, 1986.

We close out our posting schedule for the year on a melancholy note with this remembrance of the life of Emile Zuckerkandl, who passed away on November 9th at the age of 91.

Zuckerkandl was born in Vienna, Austria on July 4, 1922. His family was of Jewish descent and active in the scientific, artistic, and political culture of the time. His father, Frederick, was a biochemist and his mother, Gertrude, was a portrait and landscape artist whose father, Wilhelm Stekel, was an anatomist. His paternal grandfather, Emil Zuckerkandl, was also an anatomist – one of great prominence – whose wife, Berta, was a journalist and art critic. Berta also hosted salons in Vienna attended by all manner of literary, musical and artistic figures.  She likewise used her position to speak out against Nazi occupation and militarization, a stance that forced the Zuckerkandls to flee from Austria into France in 1938 and to later to Algiers.

The family’s flight from Vienna briefly disrupted educational pursuits for Emile, who was attending high school at the time. He finished school in Paris before going to university in Algiers where he studied medicine. While there – as he would relate in a 1996 interview with Gregory Morgan at the Dibner Institute – “I came to understand that it was biology that I was interested in, more than medicine.” He was soon expelled however, a victim of the Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws that extended to colonial Algiers. By this point, the only schooling still available to him was at the music conservatory, where he studied piano.

Emile and Berta Zuckerkandl, ca. 1930. Image courtesy of the Austrian National Library.

Emile and Berta Zuckerkandl, ca. 1930. Image courtesy of the Austrian National Library.

While the family had escaped the dangers of residence in Austria and France, Emile’s outspoken grandmother was still not completely safe and so she sought to go to the United States. During this time, Albert Einstein took an interest in the young Zuckerkandl and helped him to obtain a scholarship to study in the U.S. The Zuckerkandls ultimately did not need to come to the United States as the Nazis were soon defeated, thus rendering France safe for the family once again. Nonetheless, Emile spent one year at the Sorbonne in Paris before taking advantage of the scholarship that Einstein had helped him to obtain.

Once stateside, Zuckerkandl attended the University of Illinois where, in 1947, he obtained a master’s degree in physiology, spending summers researching at the Marine Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachusetts. He returned to the Sorbonne afterwards and earned his PhD in biology. Following that, he spent ten years at the Roscoff Biological Station in western France – the country’s largest marine laboratory – where he carried out biochemical research.

Emile and Jane Zuckerkandl, October 1970.  Image courtesy of the Esther M. Lederberg Collection.

Emile and Jane Zuckerkandl, October 1970. Image courtesy of the Esther M. Lederberg Collection.

In 1958, while in Paris, Zuckerkandl arranged to meet with Linus Pauling. The two had been introduced through Alfred Stern, an Austria-born professor of philosophy at Caltech and a friend of the Zuckerkandl family. The following year Pauling recommended Zuckerkandl for a post-doc position at Caltech, stressing his relationship with Stern as well as with Charles Metz, who had received his PhD in biology from Caltech and was the brother of Emile’s wife, Jane.

Buoyed by Pauling’s initial recommendation and continued support, Zuckerkandl spent the next five years at Caltech. While there, Zuckerkandl propelled important work on what would become known as the molecular clock. The project was spurred by a suggestion that Pauling made to Zuckerkandl; that he compare the hemoglobin protein sequences of humans and gorillas to trace their evolutionary development. As Zuckerkandl told Morgan, “When Dr. Pauling made this suggestion to me, I was not too happy,” as he wished to continue his own line of research. But “later I understood how right Dr. Pauling was… At first I did not know how lucky I was!” Indeed, the molecular clock and molecular evolution would form the foundation of much of Zuckerkandl’s scientific career.

In 1961 Zuckerkandl, on Pauling’s recommendation, began working in Walter A. Schroeder’s lab, one of the few in the world researching protein sequences at that time. Zuckerkandl proposed that Schroeder coauthor the publication of his evolution work, but Schroeder refused due to his own creationist views. Pauling came to the rescue by suggesting that he coauthor with Zuckerkandl instead, but stipulated that they “should say something outrageous” since the piece was slated to appear in a prominent collection honoring the birth of Albert Szent-Györgyi.

The result was a classic 1962 paper, “Molecular Disease, Evolution and Genetic Heterogeneity,” in which Zuckerkandl and Pauling first postulated the idea of the molecular clock. As Zuckerkandl told Giacomo Bernardi in 2012, Pauling was more focused on his peace work at the time and his involvement with the paper was relatively tangential. Burdened by a crush of other obligations, Zuckerkandl’s coauthor agreed that he would “make some changes that would be moderate, and then the paper would come out as I conceived it.”

Morgan described the basics of the paper and its impact in a 2001 essay.

The molecular clock hypothesis, as it came to be known, proposed that the rate of evolution in a given protein molecule is approximately constant over time. More specifically, it proposed that the time elapsed since the last common ancestor of two proteins would be roughly proportional to the number of amino acid differences between their sequences. The molecular clock, therefore, would not be a metronomic clock – that is, its ‘ticks and tocks’ would not be uniform – but would instead be a clock based upon random mutation events. In practice, a molecular clock would allow biologists to date the branching points of evolutionary trees.

The molecular clock hypothesis, while rarely cited among Pauling’s most important discoveries, has proven to be very influential. The UC Berkeley biologist Alan Wilson claimed that the molecular clock is the most significant result of research in molecular evolution. In his book Patterns of Evolution, Roger Lewin describes the molecular clock as ‘one of the simplest and most powerful concepts in the field of evolution.’ Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, called the molecular clock a very important idea that turned out to be much truer than most thought when it was proposed.

For the remainder of his time in Pasadena, Zuckerkandl continued to develop his ideas, and in this was assisted in the laboratory by his wife, Jane. Yet he was also eager to return to France, fueled in part by continued uncertainty surrounding his funding at Caltech. Pauling tried to help by recommending Zuckerkandl for a position in the anthropology department at the University of California – San Diego and by bringing back to Zuckerkandl contact information for scientists in Europe. Upon returning to Europe for a conference in 1962, Zuckerkandl wrote to Pauling, “It was as exciting, after three years of life in California, to rediscover Europe as it had been to first discover America.” Soon afterwards, he obtained a position at a new research facility in Montpellier, France – the only hitch was that he needed to wait three years for it to be built. In the meantime, Zuckerkandl expressed worry to Pauling that his work on gorilla hemoglobin would soon “be out of date” because of the interruption posed by his return to France.

Once Zuckerkandl and his research materials had finally arrived in Montpellier in 1965, new problems arose. He told Pauling, “I did not foresee the particular kind of obstacles that I find in my way. Bureaucracy is taking over the direction of our laboratory.” (In a 1971 letter, when asking how Pauling had been such a “great fighter” for peace and science, Zuckerkandl concluded that it could only have been because Pauling had “not tried to found a research department in France.”)  This manner of struggle proved a defining feature of Zuckerkandl’s years at Montpellier and it was not long before he and Pauling began seeking out avenues to reunite, both through short visits and Zuckerkandl’s standing invitation for Pauling to come to Montpellier as a visiting researcher. A bright spot occurred in 1970 as Zuckerkandl was offered the editorship of the new Journal of Molecular Evolution by Conrad Springer.

Zuckerkandl with Ewan Cameron, New Years Day, 1979. Image courtesy of the Esther M. Lederberg Collection.

Zuckerkandl with Ewan Cameron, New Years Day, 1979. Image courtesy of the Esther M. Lederberg Collection.

Zuckerkandl eventually decided to leave France and return to the United States. In 1975 Pauling offered Zuckerkandl lab space at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, but by then he was already at Woods Hole where he hoped details might get resolved at his old position and he could return to Montpellier. A bit later, when Zuckerkandl decided to take Pauling up on his offer, Pauling had to turn him down due to the Institute’s mounting financial problems. Zuckerkandl stayed at Woods Hole and had assumed a visiting professorship at the University of Delaware when, in 1976, Pauling offered him a year-long non-resident fellowship.

LPISM Newsletter, 1977.

LPISM Newsletter, 1977.

Zuckerkandl quickly moved up the ranks at the Institute. At the end of his fellowship, Pauling recommended that he be sponsored for a two year visa and become Vice Director of the organization. By 1979 Zuckerkandl held the additional positions of Vice President and Research Professor, assuming responsibility for carrying out his own work on vitamin C and cancer while also helping Pauling with administrative duties. By the end of the year, Zuckerkandl was taking on even greater administrative responsibilities from Pauling, including budgeting, fund raising, and finding a new home for the Institute.

During this period, Zuckerkandl’s management skills came to the fore. He immediately set out to establish priorities for research, setting a “cutting off point” in time after which any new projects would be “provisionally abandoned.” He also dealt with the storm of controversy caused by the firing of Institute President Art Robinson and Robinson’s statement in Barron’s that high doses of ascorbate led to tumor development in mice. (In a memo to Pauling, Zuckerkandl noted that “the data do not appear to authorize Art’s statement’s” which were most likely based on a “scatter of the experimental points” and nothing more definite.)

The following year, Zuckerkandl was made President and Director of the Institute. Funding continued to be a problem, with each advance seemingly countered by a setback. Typically, at about the same time that the Institute agreed to pay a settlement to Robinson, Zuckerkandl also oversaw the opening of the Armand Hammer Cancer Research Center, with support from its namesake. In 1985, to show his dedication to the Institute, Zuckerkandl deferred a raise that he had been offered until it could be afforded.

However, in 1992 Zuckerkandl’s contract was not renewed. By then the Institute was in a dire financial position and needed to make some very difficult decisions concerning staffing and programs. Nonetheless, Zuckerkandl remained in the building through a lease agreement between LPISM and his new Institute of Molecular Medicine. He also invited many LPISM staff, some of whom had also been laid off, to join him in his fledgling enterprise.

Emile Zuckerkandl, 1993.

Emile Zuckerkandl, 1993.

When not managing a research institute, Zuckerkandl continued to produce work on molecular evolution. In 1997 and 2007, continuing a career-long debate over the relationship between molecular evolution and natural selection, Zuckerkandl addressed molecular diseases and “junk DNA” to argue against the neutral theory of molecular evolution. Beginning in the late 1960s, Motoo Kimura, Jack King, Thomas Jukes, and others had used the molecular clock idea to suggest that evolutionary change occurs not because of natural selection, but due to neutral random mutations and allele drift. Zuckerkandl disagreed, arguing that natural selection and the molecular clock were compatible.

Zuckerkandl not only argued against what he saw as misapplications of his own ideas, but also against broader cultural attacks on science. Beginning in the late 1980s, he began to speak out against creationists, telling Pauling in a 1991 memo that “since in this country they seriously threaten education and culture, a response to them needs to be made.”  As Zuckerkandl saw it, the threat was not only cultural but also involved the health of humanity and of the Earth. In a 1991 draft titled “Genetic and Esthetic Winter,” which he shared with Pauling, Zuckerkandl proposed the need for more control of population growth to curb human impact on the environment, an imperative that he saw as being impeded partly by religious beliefs.

Zuckerkandl also turned his gaze toward enemies within the academy, attacking the application of social constructivism to science. In a 2000 paper, he argued that while scientific discoveries may be socially determined, the “mature” results that lead to practical applications, especially in technology and medicine, is “evidence for independence” of science from similar influences.

But Zuckerkandl did not maintain a strict scientism. In “Genetic and Esthetic Winter,” he described the resilience of science, but also its limitations. When speaking about threats to environmental stability, he stated,

In this situation, curiously, scientific culture is perhaps the least threatened province of culture. Yet knowing and knowhow are not enough. Perceiving and feeling cannot be replaced by engineering. We can’t be satisfied with preparing a future in which the environment will be enriching only for the vocation of engineers.

Zuckerkandl’s health steadily deteriorated as he advanced in age. Over time, a troublesome back proved to be especially problematic. He died on November 9, 2013 in Palo Alto, California, the victim of a brain tumor.

Coming Home, Prize in Hand

Torchlight procession in Oslo, December 1963.

Torchlight procession in Oslo, December 1963.

After the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies had passed, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling remained in Scandinavia into the New Year, visiting friends and making several public appearances in the region. In the wake of his prize, Pauling continued to speak on the importance of peaceful international relations and also addressed scientific audiences. Often, the two would overlap.

For the rest of the first week, the Paulings remained in Oslo where the whole family was able to spend some time together and mingle informally with others. On Friday, December 13th, the Paulings visited the Munch Museum, which had just opened to mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Afterwards, they attended a luncheon hosted by the Norwegian Chemical Society. The weekend continued with informal meetings and a party at the home of Otto Bastiansen, who had helped the Paulings to plan their activities while in Scandinavia.

The following Monday, the Paulings flew north to Trondheim where Linus gave a Normann Lecture, part of a popular series on philosophy and science sponsored by the estate of Evard Normann, a local fishmonger. Pauling’s talk, “Humanism and Peace,” continued in the vein of his Nobel Lecture by addressing the need for humanity to decide between peace reached through reason, versus annihilation brought on by war. Pauling emphasized that people were no longer separated into small groups where communication was easier. “Now we are all bound together,” he said. “One organism. Will it survive or become extinct?”

Pauling then referred to Aristotle’s assertion that nations were inherently immoral, suggesting that “Now they will become moral.” The next day, Pauling kept up his slate of public appearances by meeting with local high school students and by giving a lecture to the Trondheim section of the Norwegian Chemical Society on the role of molecular diseases in evolution.

The Paulings spent the rest of the week in Sweden. Their first stop took them to Stockholm, where they were immediately met by a collection of prominent Swedish scientists and politicians. Later, Pauling addressed the press before attending a reception hosted by the local chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Published in Land og Folk, January 3, 1964.

Published in Land og Folk, January 3, 1964.

The next morning, Linus gave another lecture on molecular disease and its relation to evolution, this time to the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. In the afternoon, the Paulings visited the newly opened Wenner-Gren Center, which Hugo Theorell, head of the Nobel Medical Institute’s Biochemistry Department, described to Linus as representing “one of the many ways which have to be tried in order to improve mutual understanding and friendship between different people and races.” Devoted to scientific collaboration across borders and staffed by researchers from thirty countries, Wenner-Gren struck Pauling as a good example of how science could foster peaceful international cooperation.

That evening, local peace groups held a torch light procession in honor of Pauling. The march ended in front of the Storkyrkan, the oldest church in Stockholm, where Pauling then gave a speech on peace. The talk was similar to the Trondheim address, referring again to Aristotle’s notion that nations are inherently immoral, since, as Pauling quoted, “It is considered proper for a strong nation to attack a weak one, if she can thereby benefit herself, irrespective of what the principles of morality have to say about this action.”

Pauling also condemned the United States’ rejection of the 1957 Rapacki Plan, which would have established a nuclear free zone in central Europe. “Up to that time,” Pauling said, “everything had been simple. Everything could be blamed on the Russians.” Afterward however, Western intellectuals began to lose faith that the “free world” sought “peace, democracy, and a better future.”

From Stockholm, the Paulings went southwest to Gothenburg and then south again to Lund, stopping at both cities’ universities to speak on his own path to becoming a peace activist. From there the Paulings returned to Oslo and enjoyed a more relaxed schedule over the holidays.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling with Martin Ottesen, Copenhagen, January 1964.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling with Martin Ottesen, Copenhagen, January 1964.

Before heading back to the United States, the Paulings spent one day in Copenhagen, where Linus would give one final talk on peace. According to a letter to Pauling from Gerda Ottesen – wife of Martin Ottesen, the director of the Carlsberg Laboratory – Pauling’s time there led to the nascent formation of a “Pauling Group” that endeavored to translate Pauling’s speeches and writings on peace into Danish. Ottesen also informed Pauling that he had become of interest to a newly formed political party which had emerged out of disputes from within the Danish socialist party. His mark clearly made in Scandinavia, Pauling headed back to the States.

The Paulings arrived in New York City on Saturday, January 4th and kept a low profile during their first few days on home soil. On Wednesday they flew to Washington, D.C. for a press conference – their first public appearance in the United States since Pauling had been awarded the Nobel Prize. The Women’s National Press Club hosted the press conference, according to president Elsie Carper, so that Pauling could talk about the responsibility that scientists have in a democratic society and to “promote better understanding” of science in “world affairs.”

Despite the event’s stated intention, what ended up in print contained little in the way of science. As with mainstream reporting from the Nobel ceremony, writing on the press conference focused mostly on Pauling’s previous statements about the need for China to be involved in disarmament negotiations and his much published suggestion that “there will never again be a world war – or any war in which nuclear weapons are used – or any great war.”

Published in the Pasadena Star-News, January 9, 1964.

Published in the Pasadena Star-News, January 9, 1964.

Other aspects of the press conference dug more into Pauling’s political background. During the question and answer portion, one reporter asked Pauling if he would ever run for office. Pauling said he would rather work on his science and for peace independently, and that he was too “selfish” to run for office. He spoke as well of growing up in a Republican family and noted that he did not become a Democrat until 1932, when so many others also changed their minds on account of the Great Depression. Pauling added, “I have been one ever since.”

The media event concluded, the Paulings hurried back to New York City that afternoon so that they could attend a tribute held at the Hotel Commodore. Sponsors of the event included several scientists from around the world, as well as Bertrand Russell, Walter Cronkite, Senator George McGovern, and Arthur Miller. The gala was also attended by United Nations Secretary General, U Thant.

Pauling gave a short speech during the proceedings but was only one among many who spoke – Ava Helen, Dagmar Wilson of Women Strike for Peace, and historian Henry Steele Commager also enjoyed their moment at the podium. For his part, Pauling gave a very clear and accessible account of how many nuclear weapons were then in existence, stating,

If there were to take place tomorrow a 6-magaton war, equivalent to the Second World War in the power of explosives used, and another such war the following day, and so on, day after day, for 146 years, the present stockpile would then be exhausted.

Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 10, 1964.

Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 10, 1964.

The Paulings rested the next day and then took to the skies once more, this time destined for Philadelphia where they made two more public appearances. On Thursday, January 9th, local peace groups, including Women Strike for Peace and the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, sponsored another tribute to Pauling. In addition to hearing Pauling and others speak, those attending were also availed of the opportunity to sign pre-printed postcards addressed to President Lyndon Johnson which applauded his call for a “Peace Offensive” while also continuing to urge him to negotiate for complete disarmament. The following night, the local Women Strike for Peace chapter held a cocktail party in honor of the Paulings.

The Paulings headed back to New York City on Saturday where they would attend one more reception in their honor, this time hosted by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. On Wednesday they, at long last, flew back to California, thus concluding their five and a half weeks of travelling, lecturing, and celebrating in connection with Linus Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize. Once home, Pauling did not rest for long: within days he was in public again giving speeches outlining what he saw as the “Next Steps” to reach disarmament and peace in the world.

Linus Pauling Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

The Pauling family anticipating Linus Pauling's Nobel lecture, December 11, 1963. (Photo credit: Aftenposten)

The Pauling family anticipating Linus Pauling’s Nobel lecture, December 11, 1963. (Photo credit: Aftenposten)

On December 10th, 1963, Linus Pauling accepted the belated Nobel Peace Prize for 1962. Attended by the Norwegian royal family and various government representatives, the ceremonies took place in Festival Hall at the University of Oslo in Norway – separate, as per tradition, from the other Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. Pauling shared the ceremonies with the winners of the 1963 Nobel Peace Prize – an award split between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies in commemoration of the centennial of the founding of the Red Cross.

Gunnar Jahn, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, introduced Pauling before presenting him with the prize. In his remarks, Jahn reconstructed the advances and setbacks of the post-war peace movement in which Pauling had so prominently operated since the dropping of atomic bombs by the United States on Japan. Escalating Cold War tensions and the arms race soon rendered as unlikely any hopes for an immediate era of peace. The nascent post-war peace movement, according to Jahn, “lost impetus and faded away. But Linus Pauling marched on: for him retreat was impossible.”

While Pauling”s peace work was surely political in nature, Jahn drew attention to the importance of Pauling’s scientific attitude in researching and determining the effects that atmospheric radiation may have on future generations. Even critics of Pauling, including the physicist and nuclear weapons engineer Edward Teller, did not fundamentally disagree with him concerning the harmfulness of fallout from nuclear tests. Where Teller and Pauling did conflict centered more on questions as to whether or not these harmful effects outweighed the advantages that they provided to the United States with respect to the Soviets. Pauling thought they did; Teller disagreed.

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, ca. 1963.

Jahn then recounted how the public started paying close attention to Pauling in 1958 as he presented to United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld a petition signed by 11,021 scientists from fifty different countries calling for the end of above-ground nuclear weapons testing. Because of the petition, Pauling was called before Congress and questioned about alleged communist ties which, not for the first time, he denied. By Jahn’s estimation, the hearing only served to make Pauling a more popular and sympathetic character and he continued to speak out more and more.

For Jahn, Pauling’s 1961 visit to Moscow, during which he delivered a lecture on disarmament to the Soviet Academy of Science, illustrated Pauling’s importance in propelling the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which came into effect two years later. While there, Pauling unsuccessfully sought to meet with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Unbowed, he instead sent Khrushchev two letters and a draft nuclear test ban agreement. “In the main,” Jahn emphasized, Pauling’s

proposal tallies with the test-ban agreement of July 23, 1963.  Yet no one would suggest that the nuclear-test ban in itself is the work of Linus Pauling… But, does anyone believe that this treaty would have been reached now, if there had been no responsible scientist who, tirelessly, unflinchingly, year in year out, had impressed on the authorities and on the general public the real menace of nuclear tests?

Ultimately, for Jahn, it was as a scientist that Pauling helped move the world toward peace. Looking forward, Pauling’s proposed World Council for Peace Research would bring together bright minds from the sciences and humanities under the auspices of the United Nations in hopes of seeking out new institutional models and paths of diplomacy for a nuclear-armed world. Jahn closed by suggesting that “through his campaign Linus Pauling manifests the ethical responsibility which science – in his opinion – bears for the fate of mankind, today and in the future.”

Associated Press photo published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 10, 1963.

Associated Press photo published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 10, 1963.

After concluding, Jahn called Pauling to the stage; applause and a standing ovation from the crowd quickly followed. After the applause had died down and Jahn presented Pauling with the gold Nobel medal and a certificate, Pauling delivered a brief acceptance speech, calling the prize “the greatest honor that any person can be given.” But Pauling also recognized that his prize was likewise a testament to “the work of many other people who have striven to bring hope for permanent peace to a world that now contains nuclear weapons that might destroy our civilization.”

Pauling went on to draw similarities between himself, the first scientist to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Alfred Nobel, who endowed the Nobel Foundation. Both were chemical engineers interested in scientific nomenclature and atomic structure. Both owned patents on explosive devises – Nobel the inventor of dynamite and Pauling an expert on rocket propellants and explosive powders whose skills came to bear during World War II. And both expanded their interests into biology and medicine as well. Many had described Nobel as a pessimist, but Pauling wished to assure his audience that this was not the case and that, like himself, Nobel was an optimist who saw it as “worthwhile to encourage work for fraternity among nations”

Pauling, holding the case containing his Nobel diploma, being congratulated by Norwegian King Olav V. Image originally published in Morgenbladet, December 11, 1963.

Pauling, holding the case containing his Nobel certificate, being congratulated by Norwegian King Olav V. Image originally published in Morgenbladet, December 11, 1963.

The following day, December 11th, Pauling gave his Nobel Lecture, “Science and Peace.” In it he described how the advent of nuclear bombs was “forcing us to move into a new period in the history of the world, a period of peace and reason.” Development of nuclear weapons showed how science and peace were closely related. Not only were scientists involved in the creation of nuclear weapons, they had also been a leading group in the peace movement, bringing public awareness to the dangers of such weapons.

Pauling recounted how Leo Szilard – whose 1939 letter to President Roosevelt (and co-signed by Albert Einstein) had led to the Manhattan Project – urged Roosevelt in 1945 to control nuclear weapons through an international system, a plea that was issued before the first bombs had been dropped. While Szilard’s appeal fell flat, it was followed, in 1946, by the creation of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, a group overseen by Szilard, Einstein and seven others, including Pauling. Over the next five years, the committee warned of the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear war and advocated for the only defense possible: “law and order” along with a “future thinking that must prevent wars.”

Pauling's Nobel certificate, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate, 1963.

Other groups followed. For Pauling, the Pugwash Conferences, headed by Bertrand Russell from 1957 to 1963, were particularly influential in bringing attention to the harmful effects of nuclear testing and, ultimately, the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. It was during this time that nuclear fallout, the subject of Pauling’s 1958 petition, became of greater concern. The importance of fallout centered on the potential genetic mutations to which several generations would be exposed. Pauling quoted the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy to support his point: “The loss of even one human life, or malformation of even one baby – who may be born long after we are gone – should be of concern to us all.”

As matters stood in 1963, Pauling warned that the time to effectively control nuclear weapons was fast slipping away. The test-ban treaty was, Pauling lamented, already two years too late and had not prevented the large volume of testing that took place after the Soviets – who were quickly followed by the United States – had broken the 1959 testing moratorium in 1961. The failure to end testing outright before 1960 led to the explosion of 450 of the 600 megatons detonated during all nuclear tests.

Pauling's Nobel certificate case, 1963.

Pauling’s Nobel certificate case, 1963.

Because of the sheer number of nuclear weapons in existence (Pauling estimated some 320,000 megatons) limited war was not a feasible plan due to “the likelihood that a little war would grow into a world catastrophe,” both immediate and long-term. Abolishing all war was the only way out. But standing in the path of the abolition of war were people in powerful positions who did not recognize the present dangers and the need to end war. Pauling also saw China’s exclusion from the United Nations, which prevented the nation from taking part in any discussions on disarmament, as an additional roadblock to a lasting world peace.

To get around these blockades, Pauling proposed joint national and international control of nuclear weapons as well as an inspection treaty aiming to prevent the development of biological and chemical weapons, which could become a threat of equal measure to nuclear weapons. Additionally, Pauling felt that small-scale wars should be abolished and international laws established to prevent larger nations from dominating smaller ones.

The challenges of the era were great but Pauling ended optimistically:

We, you and I, are privileged to be alive during this extraordinary age, this unique epoch in the history of the world, the epoch of demarcation between the past millennia of war and suffering and the future, the great future of peace, justice, morality and human well-being… I am confident that we shall succeed in this great task; that the world community will thereby be freed not only from the suffering caused by war but also, through the better use of the earth’s resources, of the discoveries of scientists, and of the efforts of mankind, from hunger, disease, illiteracy, and fear; and that we shall in the course of time be enabled to build a world characterized by economic, political, and social justice for all human beings, and a culture worthy of man’s intelligence.

The Nobel medal, obverse.

The Nobel medal, obverse.

The response to Pauling’s speech by the American press was fairly tame. Most headlines simply issued variations on “Pauling Gets His Prize.” A handful of headlines delved into the substance of Pauling’s lecture, one noting “Pauling Accepts Award, Sees World without War in Sight.” Others emphasized the means by which he sought to end war, e.g. “Pauling Urges UN Veto Power on Nuclear Arms.”

The substance of the articles, most of which relied upon Associated Press copy, continued to focus on Pauling’s past controversies and suspected communism. From his lecture, the reports tended to highlight his homage to the late President Kennedy and the dollar amount of his prize. When Pauling’s policy proposals came up, mostly in larger papers that did not rely on the Associated Press, China’s admission to the United Nations and UN veto power over the use of nuclear weapons were seen as relevant and potentially controversial.

Absent from the press coverage was any discussion of the science of Pauling’s lecture. This included his claims concerning the harmful health effects of nuclear weapons as well as his descriptions of the increases in size and number of nuclear weapons. No article mentioned “genetic mutations” or “megatons” as Pauling had done in his lecture.

The Nobel medal, reverse.

The Nobel medal, reverse.

One bit of critical commentary, published in the Wall Street Journal, came out a week after Pauling’s speech. Author William Henry Chamberlin dismissed Pauling’s views on peace as both unpopular and overly simplistic. Pauling’s reasoning ran counter to the thinking of all US presidents since Truman – namely, that the only avenue to peace is to make as many weapons as the Soviets. Chamberlin noted that even scientists – specifically Edward Teller – agreed.

In Chamberlin’s estimation, Pauling was merely an alarmist. Further, Pauling had no impact whatsoever on the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The idea for the treaty had emerged out of the governments of the United States and Great Britain long ago and its delay in ratification was due solely to foot-dragging from the Soviets. Chamberlin also discounted Pauling’s claim to be a representative of a world-wide movement for peace by characterizing his efforts as “a one-man crusade.”

Pauline Gebelle as pictured in the Portland Oregonian, December 17, 1963.

Pauline Geballe as pictured in the Portland Oregonian, December 17, 1963.

Contrary to Chamberlin’s stance, on the same day the Portland Oregonian published a short article profiling Pauling’s freshman physiography teacher at Washington High School, Pauline Geballe. Pauling pointed to her as one who had helped to ignite his interest in science and the two had kept in touch over the years. Geballe herself, through the League of Women Voters, was also part of the peace movement. On behalf of the group, she had recently queried Pauling for insight into questions of disarmament. Pauling responded by sending her a copy of No More War! from which Geballe read aloud the next time the group met. Geballe and her colleagues seemed to evidence that, just as he had been stating for the previous two months and likewise in his Nobel acceptance speech, Pauling was merely a representative of a much larger movement, if still a polarizing and extremely prominent one.

Oslo Bound

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

While letters congratulating Linus Pauling for winning the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize continued to pour into his office early in December 1963, the debate in the press over whether Pauling deserved the Nobel had begun to cool down. Meanwhile, closer to home in southern California, friends and colleagues of Pauling and his wife Ava Helen honored the pair for their activism at several events.

On December 1st, eight activist groups, including Women Strike for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, SANE, and the Youth Action Committee, held a public reception for the Paulings at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Los Angeles. The Paulings also opened their home to celebrate with friends and former students. The celebrants made banners to honor the Paulings, one reading, “We knew you when you only had one.” Another took on a more mathematical form: “LP plus AHP equals PAX plus 2 Nobels.”

While the Pauling’s attended celebrations in their honor, they were obliged to refuse other offers as they prepared for their trip. A Caltech student requested that Pauling give a farewell speech before leaving for Scandinavia. Turning down the request, Pauling would tell the Associated Press a few days later that he was not giving any speeches before he accepted his Nobel Prize so as not to “be tempted to let something drop beforehand.”

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

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

It is, of course, entirely possible that something else was in play with respect to Pauling’s refusal to speak at Caltech.  Much has been made of Caltech’s official non-response to Pauling’s Nobel Peace award.  Indeed, the only recognition that occurred at all on the Pasadena campus was a small coffee hour hosted by the Biology Department. The fact that his own department, to say nothing of the larger institution, chose to ignore this major decoration was deeply hurtful to Pauling. By December Pauling had already announced his departure from Caltech, his academic home of some forty-one years. But the cold shoulder that he received from all but the Biology Department was suggestive of tensions that had been mounting for some time and proved a fitting, if bitter, capstone to this unhappy phase of his relationship with the Institute.

Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

For their part, mainstream journalists had finally begun to take a more amicable and celebratory approach to their portrayals of Pauling than had generally been the case since the announcement of his Nobel win in October. Articles sought a more personal reflection of Pauling while not completely ignoring the earlier controversy.

Of particular note, as the Paulings flew across the Atlantic on December 7th, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an interview with their eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr., in which he reflected on his father’s activism. When asked to gauge Pauling’s talents, Pauling Jr. downplayed his father’s peace efforts in relation to his work as a scientist. “In terms of his ability to marshal facts and to organize and reorganize them toward a goal,” Pauling Jr. stated, “his strivings for peace are comparatively simple, whereas this ability applied to science demonstrates an astoundingly high degree of creative imagination. Essentially, his work in peace is a public relations job – to get the facts across to the public in a meaningful way.”

When asked what inspired his father to engage in peace work, Pauling Jr. said that “innately, he has always been a humanitarian.” His aversion to hunting and his resistance to Japanese internment during World War II were submitted as past evidence of these humanist proclivities.

Digging a little deeper, Pauling Jr. pointed to his father’s experience with Bright’s disease in the early 1940s as a turning point in taking on social issues. At the beginning of the disease, which manifested in bloating and impaired kidney functioning, the elder Pauling “was pretty close to dying.” During his recovery he was forced to rest and spent time weaving blankets. Pauling Jr. thought that his father’s time of rest “forced him to contemplate on the value of life; on the wrongs of killing and harming that was going on around the world.”

Ava Helen Pauling also was a major influence on her husband according to Pauling Jr. Of particular importance was her work with Union Now during the early war years – an activist platform that called for world government as a tool for mediating international issues between nations.

Pauling Jr. inevitably addressed some of the controversy surrounding his father’s alleged communist ties, saying that he had “never heard him praise communism, although, on occasion, he has criticized some aspects of capitalism, such as unequal opportunities. Today,” he continued, “that’s known as civil rights.”

Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

The following day, an Associated Press article that centered on Pauling’s life and his “book-and-paper strewn den,” came out in papers across the country. With the Nobel ceremonies only two days away, the headlines that ran with the article insinuated something big, with variations of “Pauling Hints at Surprises in Oslo Speech,” “Linus Pauling Promises Speech Shocker,” or “Pauling Predicts Shock.” The actual feature article, written by Ralph Dighton, was less sensational.

A Peanuts cartoon strip signed by Charles Schultz on display at the Pauling’s home helped Dighton to characterize his subject. The strip showed the animated character Linus stacking blocks in a “gravity-defying stairstep fashion” with the tagline, “Linus, you can’t do that!” Pauling’s own reaction after reading it, Dighton noted, was a loud laugh. For Dighton, the lesson of the cartoon was that “the world has been telling Pauling [you can’t do] that all his life, and he keeps doing what for many others would be impossible.”

In his piece, Dighton also spoke to Pauling’s decision to leave Caltech in favor of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Pauling avoided any discussion of problems at Caltech and instead explained that receiving the Nobel Peace Prize was an opportunity and his decision to leave was a direct consequence of his prize. At the Center, Pauling would have more freedom to focus on his peace work and international affairs while also continuing to delve into the molecular basis of disease.

While the article avoided adding to the controversy surrounding Pauling, it still discussed past instances to remind readers that Pauling was never far from trouble. The list was familiar to those who had followed Pauling’s career: the 1952 denial of Pauling’s passport due to suspected communist tendencies; his1958 petition against nuclear testing, signed by over 11,000 scientists from 49 different countries; the consequent 1960 “joust” with the Senate Internal Security subcommittee; his picketing of the Kennedy White House just before attending dinner inside. All helped to exemplify how Pauling had “made a public scourge of himself.”

Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Neilen Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

As Pauling set his sights on Europe and the spotlight of international attention, he left behind a busy office. His assistants Helen Gilrane and Katherine Cassady, who had typed up numerous thank you letters and helped to coordinate Pauling’s increasingly busy life over the previous two months, continued to assist Pauling from a distance. Both kept on answering Pauling’s unceasing correspondence while also working out the details of his still-unfolding trip. For her part, Gilrane responded to Bertrand Russell among many others, telling him that Pauling would be unable to respond right away. Communications of high importance were forwarded to Pauling in Norway; others had to wait until his return in January.

The Paulings return trip through the East Coast had not been finalized either. Gilrane made reservations in New York and Philadelphia while also coordinating Pauling’s wardrobe for the celebrations that would take place upon his return. She wrote to Samuel Rubin, President of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, that Pauling “shall have his smoking jacket as well as his tails, but he will wear whatever you think is appropriate for the evening.”

Pauling also benefited from the help of friends in Norway. Otto Bastiansen, a Norwegian physicist and chemist, worked out much of Pauling’s Scandinavian itinerary, deciding where he would lecture and with whom he would meet. Since the entire Pauling family, including the children’s spouses, was coming, Bastiansen had to work out how they might be involved in activities as well. The Paulings’ first event happened almost as soon as they landed in Oslo on Sunday, December 8th. Ignored by the U.S. embassy or any other official representative from his home country, Pauling was welcomed at a private party held at the home of Marie Lous-Mohr, a Norwegian Holocaust survivor and peace activist who had also helped to arrange Pauling’s schedule.

On December 9th, the day before the Peace Prize ceremonies, the Paulings had lunch with friends and colleagues from Norway at the Hotel Continental, where they were staying. Afterward Linus and Ava Helen, together with two of their sons, Peter and Linus Jr., participated in a press conference. The event focused mostly on the man of the hour, who was very optimistic about the significance of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and expressed gratitude toward the many people who worked in the peace movement. The Associated Press quoted Pauling as stating,

I think awarding me the prize will mean great encouragement to the peace workers everywhere, but particularly in the United States, where there have been so many attacks upon the peace workers… For some time it has been regarded as improper there to talk about these things. I think this is about the best thing that could happen for the movement.

As the world was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pauling said that Kennedy’s “attitude” helped make peace activism acceptable in the United States. Pauling steered away from any criticisms of Kennedy, as one reporter prodded Pauling about his opinion of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, Pauling had been extremely critical, calling Kennedy’s threat of military action against Russia “horrifying” as it could easily lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Regardless, Pauling told the press in Oslo that the situation “taught the lesson to the world, that the existence of nuclear weapons is a peril to the human race.”

The next day, Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to that peril.