Summer Creative Nonfiction

Linus Pauling, reading with Linus Jr., 1925.

Linus Pauling, reading with Linus Jr., 1925.

[Ed Note: Over the next three weeks, the Pauling Blog will be presenting five sketches on Pauling written in the style of creative nonfiction by Melinda Gormley and Melissae Fellet. An introduction to this work, authored by Dr. Gormley, follows below.]

Very few scientists have written about their lives and experiences in the way that Linus Pauling did. Some, but still few, held on to their papers and belongings like he did. Pauling aspired to great things and believed he would achieve them and for this reason threw away few papers that might one day enable him and others to record the events of his life and work.

The amount of materials on both Linus and Ava Helen Pauling housed at Oregon State University’s Special Collections & Archives Research Center may overwhelm the researcher at first, but its wealth rarely, if ever, disappoints. The staff must be commended for recognizing early on the benefits of digitizing the materials in their possession and making it accessible to the public through the internet. I was fortunate to participate in this process by helping to develop one of the documentary histories, It’s in the Blood: A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin, and Sickle Cell Anemia.

Online access to Pauling’s life is a tremendous resource and so are the many books recording aspects of his life. There are a number of biographies on him and recently Mina Carson published one on his wife. There are also several compilations in which scholars have provided excerpts from Linus Pauling’s speeches, recollections, interviews, and the like and interspersed his own words with information about what was happening at the time.

Ava Helen Pauling, reading en route to Europe, 1926.

Ava Helen Pauling, reading en route to Europe, 1926.

After completing my master’s thesis in 2003 and the website It’s in the Blood in 2004, I moved on to another project and had no plans of returning to Linus Pauling. Yet, I found myself doing just that in 2012 when I was awarded a fellowship with the To Think, To Write, To Publish program through Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes. As one of twelve scholars I was paired with one of twelve science writers. Melissae Fellet is a freelance writer with a Ph.D. in chemistry. Our task was to produce an article on a science policy topic and write about it in the style of creative nonfiction. We bounced around several topics before deciding to write about Linus Pauling and his peace activism.

The process has been a rich experience and marks a turning point in my own research and writing. I am indebted to those associated with the fellowship. Many people had a role in this process including Lee Gutkind and Dave Guston who oversaw the To Think, To Write, To Publish program (funded by NSF award #1149107) and our mentor in this process, Gwen Ottinger. Ultimately, Melissae’s commitment to this project and our many, many lengthy conversations have helped me to grow as a writer and communicator and have pushed me in new directions.

About the Authors

Melinda Gormley ( is Assistant Director for Research at the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values at the University of Notre Dame. Melissae Fellet ( is a freelance science writer whose work about chemistry and materials science has been published in New Scientist, Chemical & Engineering News, and Ars Technica.

Melinda Gormley and Melissae Fellet have published “The Pauling-Teller Debate: A Tangle of Expertise and Values” in the summer 2015 volume of Issues in Science and Technology. (See The article and these blog posts are the result of support from the National Science Foundation award 1149107. The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: