Taking the Division Beyond the War


[Pauling as Administrator]

In the fall of 1944, Linus Pauling took some time to formally reflect on both the past and the future of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, which he had chaired for the past seven years. In doing so, Pauling acknowledged the role played by his predecessor, Arthur A. Noyes, in developing a robust and highly esteemed research staff in physical and inorganic chemistry.

Organic chemistry, which had evolved largely under Pauling’s leadership, was approaching a similar position and, Pauling thought, would continue to gain in prestige. In Pauling’s view, physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry had each arrived at an optimum point in their development and would not be in need of expansion anytime soon.

But Caltech’s greatest contributions to chemistry were located in Pauling’s own field of structural chemistry. Comparing Caltech with peers like London’s Royal Institution and Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, Pauling opined that

…the California Institute of Technology may well have made more contributions to the field than any other single laboratory in the world.

Maintaining and building upon the Institute’s stellar reputation following the end of the war would require increased financial support to make up for the eventual expiration of the Rockefeller Foundation grant that had propelled so much work since the late 1930s. In his report, Pauling did mention that the foundation was ready to fund “an intensive attack on the problem of the structure of proteins and related substances.” But in the meantime, Pauling suggested that Caltech increase its annual support for structural chemistry research from $5,000 to $7,500.

One area in obvious need of improvement was applied chemistry. Most notably, the division had been without a professor in applied chemistry since prior to the onset of the Second World War. Pauling made a goal of addressing this, expressing a desire to hire an instructor, expand facilities for graduate research, and tailor undergraduate and master’s degree programs in metallurgy.

As part of his larger vision, Pauling also revived his 1942 proposal that Caltech start a major new research program focusing on the fundamentals of medicine. Pauling saw the application of chemistry to physiological processes as a field that was coming into its own, and guessed that the discipline would continue to rapidly advance over the next handful of years. The research agenda that Pauling proposed centered around the structural chemistry of substances like drugs, hormones, enzymes, and poisons; investigations into their physiological properties; and explorations of their genetic and pharmacological applications. In putting forth these ideas, Pauling wrote,

I believe that it can be predicted safely that work along these lines will in a few years lead to great advances in the fields of physiology, bacteriology, immunology, and even medicine.

Pauling very much wanted Caltech to be an important player in this future, but felt that the Institute was far too understaffed to achieve this objective. As a corrective, he suggested they hire a bacteriologist, physiologist, enzyme chemist, and virologist ideally possessing backgrounds in biology, chemistry, and physics. As with the 1942 proposal, Pauling once more suggested that the Institute raise funds for a new building that would house these researchers, and that the group collaborate with local hospitals.

The war had demonstrated to Pauling that scientific research could be conducted efficiently if personnel were organized in a hierarchy, a style that had concerned A.A. Noyes back when Pauling was originally considered for the division chairmanship. Emboldened by the successes of the scientific war effort, Pauling expressed his desire to apply this approach to researching protein structures, envisioning a research team of about twenty. Absent such an intensive approach, he feared, the structures of most proteins would not be solved in his lifetime.

To strengthen his proposal, Pauling hinted that the Rockefeller Foundation might be inclined to fund such work, as they had already provided $433,000 to the division to support research in structural, organic, and immunochemistry over the previous twelve years, and had also set up a $1,000,000 organic chemistry endowment. And as 1944 neared its conclusion, Pauling felt ready to bring his postwar plan to the foundation.

Pauling’s first conversations about the proposal were with Frank Blair Hanson, who oversaw the foundation’s immunological funding. Pauling then went to Warren Weaver who directed natural science research and who had worked closely with Pauling for the duration of the foundation’s engagement with Caltech. Weaver thought Pauling’s ideas to be important but unrealistic, particularly as concerned the number of qualified researchers who would be available after the war.

While he largely agreed with this assessment, Pauling still pushed his case, drawing Weaver’s attention to a new technique for measuring the absorption of isotherms in water vapor that he could apply to the structure of proteins. Pauling wanted to pursue this technique and asked for six to eight years of funding at $25,000 to $40,000 a year. The foundation wasn’t ready to make this investment at the time.

Close to a year later, Pauling and George Beadle, the new head of the Division of Biology, approached the foundation once again, this time asking for a whopping $6,000,000 to cover fifteen to twenty years of work on the use of chemistry to investigate fundamental questions in biology. But the response from the foundation remained the same: Pauling and Beadle would have to wait.

In addition to keeping the money flowing in, Pauling also focused on taking care of his fellow chemistry faculty, making sure that their pay stayed commensurate with their accomplishments. Pauling’s ability to do so was enhanced in 1945, when he began a three-year term as a member of Caltech’s Executive Committee. Service on this committee provided Pauling with sway over the shape of his own division and the institution as a whole. In this capacity, Pauling pushed for salary increases for his colleagues in chemistry, finding a way to give raises to Verner Schomaker and Carl Niemann by readjusting spending from the Molecule Structure Fund and the Rockefeller grant. Pauling likewise worked with the committee to negotiate a salary increase for Don Yost, whose annual pay was boosted substantially from $5,000 to $8,000.

Pauling also had to deal with appointing and retaining the division’s staff. In the summer of 1945, the division extended assistant professorship appointments to Richard Dodson and Charles Coryell, but both turned down the offers down, Coryell going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dodson leaving two years later for Columbia University.

Having learned from this experience, Pauling went to the Executive Committee and implored that they act “without delay” to make sure that Cornelius Rhodes of the Cancer Memorial Hospital in New York – soon to be paying a visit to Pasadena – not “entice” Dan Campbell to head a laboratory group on the East Coast. Specifically, Pauling wanted Campbell to receive an assurance that his position at Caltech was permanent as he was central to Pauling’s plans for the division’s future, especially regarding the Rockefeller funding. Campbell ultimately did stay, securing a $3,000 grant from Wescar Investment Company within a year. Pauling moved to offer him a full professorship in 1950.

Occasionally, Pauling had to do the tough job of making decisions about which staff would receive external funding. One such instance came about in December 1945 when Joseph Barker, Chairman of the Executive Committee and Acting President of the Research Corporation in New York City, asked for Pauling’s opinion on proposals submitted by three different researchers within the division. Don Yost had requested funds to support work on nuclear chemistry and the chemistry of metals; E. R. Buchman was interested in thiamine; and James Bonner wished to explore flowering plant hormones.

Barker told Pauling that the corporation preferred to award only one grant to a specific institution and asked Pauling to provide direction on a worthy recipient. While he was initially hesitant to favor one of the three, Pauling ultimately leaned towards Yost, since biochemical work was already well-funded. Having done so, Pauling also put forth the notion that Barker might prefer Buchman, since he had already established a relationship with the Research Corporation. Pauling’s deflection left the final decision up to Barker, which may have been Pauling’s intention all along. As an administrator who was constantly on the lookout for ways to fund and support his colleagues, Pauling almost certainly would have preferred that grant monies go to all three.

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