Andrei Sakharov: An Overview

[Part 1 of 2]

Esteemed scientist, subject to ridicule in his home country, becomes outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons testing and wins Nobel Peace Prize with activist wife by his side. Without thinking twice, one might quickly assume this to be a short summary of the life of Linus Pauling, but it also suffices nicely as a capsule biography of the Soviet physicist and activist, Andrei Sakharov.

Indeed, the lives of these two men were striking in their similarity. Both were famous scientists – Sakharov a nuclear physicist and Pauling a chemist – and, following World War II, both became very outspoken critics of the nuclear arms race. Both were likewise criticized by their governments for their rhetoric and world view, and both eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for their activist work. It is no surprise then, that the lives of these two men intersected more than once and that their relationship seemed to be based on a mutual understanding that their lives were unique, yet in some ways intertwined.


Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, born in 1921, spent the early chapters of his scientific career advancing research that directly led to the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Regarded to be the “great equalizer” in the arms race against the United States, the first successful H-bomb tests were celebrated as a significant milestone within the Soviet Union, and Sakharov’s contributions to the project led to his receiving multiple accolades from Soviet leadership, including both the Lenin and the Stalin prizes.

Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, 1988. Credit: New York Times photograph.

As time moved forward however, decorations of this sort did nothing to quell Sakharov’s growing concerns about nuclear weapons and the threat that they posed to world safety. Sakharov soon channeled his worry into activism and protest, often rallying around the cause of nuclear disarmament. During this period, the recently widowed Sakharov also met his second wife, Yelena Bonner, who was an activist in her own right. The couple remained married and worked together until Sakharov’s death in 1989.


Sakharov’s protests were not always about nuclear weapons; he was also very concerned about human rights violations and was not shy about vocalizing his opinions. These activities were not embraced by the Soviet regime – outspoken criticism of the government was never welcome in the USSR – but for a time Sakharov’s voice was not entirely silenced by the government, probably because of his well-established prominence on the global stage, which included his receipt of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Official tolerance had its limits though, and when Sakharov protested his country’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 he had crossed the proverbial line. Within a year, and despite receiving public support from respected colleagues including Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov was banished from his Moscow home and exiled to the city of Gorky, which was then a closed city to foreigners, and is now known as Nizhny Novgorod. Frequent reminders of governmental censure and dissatisfaction followed from there, including restrictions on telephone and visitor access, unannounced raids of his apartment, and force-feedings during hunger strikes.

Nonetheless, Sakharov endured and managed to find ways to spread his message around the world. Eventually, in 1986, under the promise of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev freed Sakharov from exile and allowed him to return to Moscow. Sakharov died just three years later at the age of 68.


Andrei Sakharov’s life was punctuated by moments of great passion and defined by an unbreakable determination. Throughout all of the hardships that he endured, he never wavered in his dedication to the causes that he believed in, a trait that he had in common with Linus Pauling. But despite the many similarities that these two men shared, they did not formally interact with one another until the late 1970s, several decades after they had both begun to speak out against a common foe: nuclear weapons. Sakharov, it seems, was the first to reach out and initiate a relationship between the two men. The specifics of this connection will be explored in greater depth next week.

Pauling and Priestley

Joseph Priestley

[Ed Note: This is the 750th post published by the Pauling Blog since its creation in March 2008.]

Joseph Priestley was born in Yorkshire, England on March 13, 1733 to a family of cloth dressers. Priestley’s mother died when her son was only seven years old, and he was raised by an aunt whose emphasis on religious studies – and eventually ministerial training – would impact the remainder of his life. A remarkable man of many talents, Priestley is remembered today as a theologist and philosopher; a chemist who conducted important work related to gases; a grammarian, political theorist and activist; a founder of Unitarianism; and the father of soft soda.


For the first thirty years of his life, Priestley was consumed by religion – until early adulthood he studied to be a minister, after which time he took on positions as a preacher or educator in religious settings. He was trained by a church that dissented from the Church of England, and Priestley himself often criticized the majority religion of his home country. This point of view would eventually manifest in his contributions to a new theological movement, Unitarianism, that was centered on his shared desire for a sound moral foundation and an ability to question the material world.

More unsettling to the English than his criticisms of the church was Priestley’s support of the French and American revolutions, both of which were taking place in the late 18th century. In 1791 this public stance led to the destruction of Priestley’s home and nearby laboratory by a mob of enraged Englishman. While Priestley and his family escaped unharmed, the bulk of his life’s work was lost.

Following what are now known as the Priestley Riots, the 61-year-old scholar was forced to immigrate to the United States with his family to escape the social ramifications of his political beliefs. The family settled in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where Priestley and his son sought to build a model community on a large piece of property, an idea that never panned out.


Though he is today best known for his contributions to chemistry, it wasn’t until the 1760s that Priestley began to take an interest in science. A decade later, Priestley initiated his now legendary experiments on gases. He began by simply examining naturally carbonated mineral water, a study that would ultimately lead to the discovery of how to control and reproduce the process of combining carbon dioxide and water, with the eventual creation of soft sodas following from there.

Priestley then attacked a larger project on the isolation of gases that would result in world-wide recognition. Through these experiments, Priestley discovered a great many gaseous compounds including ammonia, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide and, most importantly, oxygen (O2). His research also experimentally contradicted the popular belief that the space around us was simply “air” composed of all the same element. In subsequent years, Priestley made important advances in the scientific understanding of photosynthesis and respiration through his research on how these different gases interacted.


York (Penn.) Gazette and Daily, March 28, 1969

Though born nearly one-hundred years after Joseph Priestley died, Linus Pauling was profoundly influenced, both politically and scientifically, by Priestley’s legacy. Pauling had occasion to honor the great man when, on March 27, 1969, he received the eighteenth Annual Award in Memory of Joseph Priestley from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The decoration was conferred upon Pauling for his “contributions to the welfare of mankind” and he accepted the award with great pleasure.

In his acceptance speech, delivered to about 800 people and titled “The Origin of Scientific Ideas,” Pauling echoed Priestley in suggesting that “In much of our thinking we are just groping to find out what needs to be done rather how it needs to be done.” He then touched on familiar topics including his decades-long campaign against nuclearization and his more recent interest in vitamin C.

A few years later, Pauling appeared on the CBS Bicentennial Minutes program for a brief interview in which he mentioned Priestley’s “giant step in the creation of the science of chemistry” as well as the Englishman’s support for American “colonial independence.” In an earlier letter to colleague Fred Allen, Pauling further commented on Priestley’s move to the United States, noting his reverence for the U.S.’s historical role as a place of refuge for those with liberal ideas, and his sadness that the country had “deteriorated greatly” since.


Priestley’s scientific import was such that, in 1922, the American Chemical Society established its Joseph Priestley Award in his honor. The ACS was formed in 1876, only two years after a small group of chemists met in Priestley’s former home. (Chemist and historian Derek Davenport characterized Priestley as “something between a posthumous founding father and a reigning patron saint” of the ACS.) Some 250 years after his birth, the ACS held a symposium titled “The Legacy of Joseph Priestley” in which Pauling was aptly granted the Priestley Medal.

Pauling was nominated for the award on account of his being “the most Priestley-like figure of his time,” both for his groundbreaking work as a scientist and his courageous social and political stances. In his acceptance speech, Pauling reviewed his long-running opposition to militarism and war, using Priestley’s theology to support the moral grounds on which he stood. Pauling also drew comparisons between his own work on crystal structures and Priestley’s examinations of gases. A fuller exploration of Pauling’s receipt of the Priestley Medal will be topic of next week’s post.                                                                                      

Lawrence Brockway, 1907-1979

“Dr. Brockway is the most able, prolific, energetic, and promising young man with whom I have ever been associated.”

– Linus Pauling. Letter to the American Chemical Society, September 27, 1937

Lawrence Olin Brockway, an esteemed physical chemist and one of Linus Pauling’s first graduate students, died forty years ago this month. During his time with Pauling at the California Institute of Technology, and afterwards as a professor at the University of Michigan, Brockway made great scientific strides in the determination of molecular structure using a pioneering technique, gas electron diffraction (GED), which he developed while working as a graduate student and research fellow in Pauling’s laboratory.

Born in Topeka, Kansas on September 23, 1907, Brockway completed his B.S. (1929) and M.S. (1930) in chemistry at the University of Nebraska. From there, he moved on to Caltech where he received his Ph.D. in 1933 and remained as a research fellow until 1937. Brockway left Pasadena to pursue work under a Guggenheim Fellowship. A year later he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he remained for the rest of his prolific career.


During his seven-year stint at Caltech, Brockway spent much of his time working to identify the structure of gas-phase molecules using GED. The ability to determine the molecular structure of gasses by electron diffraction was a brand new field when Brockway arrived in Pauling’s laboratory. Pauling himself had only recently learned of the technique when travelling through Europe and meeting with Herman Mark, an Austrian physicist who had developed an early GED apparatus. Intrigued, Pauling asked Mark’s permission to build a similar instrument at Caltech. Mark expressed no objections to Pauling’s doing so, in part because he had already moved on to new areas of study.

Once returned stateside, Pauling charged Brockway with the complicated task of constructing a local version of Mark’s creation. In later years, Pauling reflected on this piece of Brockway’s legacy, noting that “despite the difficulties involved, he succeeded while still a graduate student,” a triumph that “has been recognized by student and investigators” from all over the world.


A reading of Brockway’s correspondence with Pauling indicates the significant degree to which his years in Pasadena made an impact. While still a research fellow, and before he found out that he had received the Guggenheim – an award that undoubtedly helped raise his profile as an elite chemist – Brockway seemed unsure of his abilities, and even of his own self-worth. In his letters, Brockway expresses a fear of disappointing Pauling after leaving Caltech, and a wariness of being able to follow in Pauling’s footsteps. But Pauling clearly saw Brockway’s true potential and propped him up with multiple notes of support.

Pauling also provided assistance to Brockway in obtaining his faculty position at the University of Michigan. As his time at Caltech neared its end, Brockway was looking for jobs and felt unsure about what direction to take. In what he termed the “Ann Arbor Problem,” Brockway wrestled with the possibility of working at the University of Michigan (which is located in Ann Arbor) versus Ohio State University or the Midgley Foundation. Brockway was initially attracted to Ohio State because of its higher initial salary, but Pauling argued in favor of Michigan as a better fit and offered suggestions on how Brockway might negotiate for more generous compensation.

Pauling also provided a glowing letter of recommendation to the Michigan hiring committee, stating that he did not know “of any man of Dr. Brockway’s age who has made more significant contributions to molecular structure.” Around this same time, Pauling nominated Brockway to serve on the selection committee for the American Chemical Society’s Award in Pure Chemistry, an honor that would be bestowed upon Brockway just a few years later for “his contributions in physical chemistry, particularly in the determination of molecular structure by electron diffraction.”


As one might expect, Brockway’s appreciation for his mentor was clear. In a letter to Pauling letting him know that that he had accepted the Michigan post, Brockway thanked Pauling for giving him his “start in life.” He then continued,

it is difficult and perhaps unnecessary for me to express my feeling, but at least I intend to work good enough that you won’t be ashamed to admit that I was a former student.

To which Pauling replied,

I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed having you in the laboratory during the last seven years. I don’t need to say anything about how profitable your work has been.


As the years progressed and Brockway found his footing, the relationship between the two men changed accordingly. No longer quite so timid, Brockway began to write to Pauling as a peer and, eventually, as a co-author. In addition to collaborating on ten published papers, Pauling and Brockway took the time to verify one another’s work, recommend graduate students (among those supervised by Brockway was Jerome Karle, the 1985 Nobel Chemistry laureate) and weigh in on the value of proposed projects.

But their relationship was also, at times, light. When Ernest B. Rutherford, a prominent chemist, died in 1937, Pauling and Brockway wrote to each other opining on who would succeed Rutherford as the head of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge (both thought E.O. Lawrence would get the position, which went to Lawrence Bragg instead). Brockway, who was then in England on his Guggenheim Fellowship, also commented to Pauling that his new space at Oxford University had so many chemistry relics that he should “take off” his shoes “before entering.” In response, Pauling suggested that he think of his situation as an “implied compliment.” In later years, the two bragged to one another about the number of grandchildren they had.

When Brockway passed away in November 1979 from pancreatic cancer, his death seemed to rattle Pauling. Upon learning the news, Pauling wrote to Brockway’s widow, Hazel, and offered a supreme compliment: “He was the most satisfying of my many graduate students – that is, the one in whose work I took the greatest satisfaction.”

Reflecting on their long relationship, Pauling continued,

I remember with much pleasure the time when he took me, as his guest, to see the [1932] Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I also, of course, remember with still greater pleasure the many years of close collaborations with him, when he came as an eager graduate student and continued as a post-doctoral fellow with me.

Remembering Barbara Low

Barbara Low in California, 1947. Credit: Low estate.

Barbara Low, a former research fellow for Linus Pauling and an esteemed scientist, died earlier this year at the age of 98. Low spent most of her career as a researcher and professor at Columbia University’s Vageos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is perhaps best known for her work with protein structures, particularly her work on the structure of penicillin and her discovery of the pi-helix.

Barbara Wharton Rogers was born in Lancaster, England on March 23, 1920 (she married in 1950 and changed her name thereafter). After receiving her B.A. from Somerville College – an Oxford women’s college – in 1942, she went on to earn an M.A. and D. Phil. from Oxford University. As a component of her education, Low learned the techniques of x-ray crystallography, a field within the chemical sciences that was emerging for women. A major reason for this trend was the fact that one of the leading crystallographers of the era, Oxford professor Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, was banned from teaching to men, so instead she taught crystallography to women at Somerville.

Low was one of Hodgkin’s star pupils, and after Low received her B.A. in chemistry, Hodgkin became Low’s advisor for her graduate studies. It was during these years that Hodgkin and Low determined the structure of penicillin using x-ray crystallography. In 1964, Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work determining the structures of various important biochemical substances, penicillin certainly among them.

Molecular model of Penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945. Credit: Luke Hodgkin

While she was working on her doctorate, Low spent a year at the California Institute of Technology as a research fellow, supervised by Linus Pauling. This was the start of what would become a fruitful and mutual working relationship between Pauling and Low. After leaving Caltech and graduating from Oxford, Low took a position as a research associate, and later as assistant professor of physical chemistry, at Harvard University. As her career advanced, Low kept in touch with Pauling and this connection proved beneficial on more than one occasion.


In the early 1950s, Low began to apply x-ray crystallographic techniques to a study of the structure of insulin. She did so during a period of much debate within the scientific community about the structure of various proteins. Pauling famously solved a piece of this puzzle in April 1951 when he published, “The structure of proteins: Two hydrogen-bonded helical configurations of the polypeptide chain” with collaborators Robert Corey and Herman Branson. In this paper, Pauling described for the first time the alpha helical structure of many proteins, a watershed moment that ushered in a whole new era of understanding across the discipline.

Barbara Low was, of course, also working on the structure of proteins, and she became particularly inspired to investigate the connection between structure and function after attending a lecture that Pauling gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March 1951. Low believed, as did Pauling, that the configuration of the folding of the protein was of more importance to its function than was the molecular make-up itself. Determined to apply this belief to her work on the structure of insulin, Low wrote several letters to Pauling asking him to verify the bond angle distances for the proteins about which he had lectured. Pauling gladly supplied Low with the requested data, even noting that he had double-checked the calculations as he was writing her back. Pauling also helped Low to secure scientific models for the structures that he had described.

Pi-helix diagram published by Low and Grenville-Wells, 1953

These data and models proved vital to one of Low’s most famous discoveries: the pi-helix. Like the alpha-helix, the pi-helix is a type of structure found in some proteins, though one that was not published by Pauling as part of his alpha-helix investigations. This failure may have been due to the pi-helix’ small size, which at the time of its discovery led some researchers to believe it to be an infrequent and rare structure. More modern day findings indicate however that the pi-helix is much more common than previously thought; present in about 15% of protein structures all told.

Low wrote about her discovery to Pauling shortly after the news was made public and received a mixed reply from her former mentor. At the beginning of his response, Pauling suggested that the pi-helix was most likely something that he “too ran across a while back” but acknowledged that Low’s structure was not “intermediate between the alpha helix and the gamma helix,” and thus both novel and genuine. The letter concludes with an admission from Pauling that his researchers may have “overlooked it” in their previous work.


Pauling’s hedging congratulations in this instance did not seem to negatively impact the duo’s relationship, and throughout their correspondence one intuits that the colleagues remained on friendly terms throughout the years. In many letters to Pauling, Low often concluded by giving her regards to Ava Helen. Low also developed a love for the comic Li’l Abner by way of Pauling, who had introduced her to the satirical strip at a dinner party in the early 1950s.

Pauling and Low were also, at times, involved in one another’s careers. When Pauling was denied a passport to travel to the Royal Society Meeting to attend the Protein Symposium in 1952, Low wrote to express her “shock” and to express how “shaken” she was that he had been treated this way. For his part, Pauling helped Low to secure grants and funding through multiple letters of support.

Pauling also provided assistance to Low as her research position at Harvard came to an end in June 1956 by putting her in contact with colleagues Detlev Bronk of Johns Hopkins University, John Kirkwood of Yale University, and DeWitt Stetten at the National Institute of Arthritis. While it is unclear how influential these contacts may have been in Low’s gaining her eventual position at Columbia, it is certainly worth noting that Stetten had recently left Columbia after having served there for nine years as an instructor of biochemistry.

However it came to pass, Low started at Columbia in 1956 as an assistant professor and was promoted to professor in 1966. She formally retired from Columbia in 1990, but stayed on as a lecturer until 2013. Like Pauling, Low was active both socially and politically, devoting significant time and energy to affirmative action activities at her institution. She passed away on January 10, 2019 at her home in the Bronx, New York.

Remembering Ken Hedberg: Part 5, A Long and Distinguished Career

hedberg-1

[This is the final post in our series celebrating the life of Dr. Kenneth Hedberg (1920-2019).]

Ken Hedberg participated actively in many professional organizations and received numerous fellowships and awards throughout his distinguished career. He was a member of the American Chemical Society, a fellow of the American Physical Society – for which he served terms as secretary-treasurer and vice-chairman – a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Chemical Physics.

Included in a long roster of decorations were the OSU Sigma Xi Research Award (1974), the OSU Alumni Distinguished Professor Award (1975), the International Dr. Barbara Mez-Starck Prize (2005) given for outstanding contributions in the field of experimental structural chemistry, and the OSU College of Science Lifetime Achievement in Science Award (2016).

His connections to Norway also resulted on numerous honoraries. In 1982 he was named a Norwegian Marshall Plan Fellow and he served as the Odd Hassel Memorial Lecturer at the University of Oslo in 1984. He was elected a foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences in 1978, a member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters in 1996, and in 1992 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Trondheim, Norway. He also enjoyed visiting professorships at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Reading, England.


Hedberg1960-03

Scientifically, Hedberg is probably best known for being the first investigator to use gas-phase electron diffraction to determine the gas-phase structures of the fullerenes, C60, C70, and C60F48. But in addition to his contributions to research in physical chemistry and his expertise in the field of electron diffraction, Hedberg’s lasting impact can be measured, at least in part, by the genuine care and admiration that he engendered in his colleagues.

David Shoemaker, Ken’s former Caltech office-mate and later his department chair, nominated Hedberg for the OSU Alumni Distinguished Professor Award that he received in 1975. In his nomination letter, Shoemaker wrote that “Dr. Hedberg is a distinguished and dedicated teacher, among the finest in the department” and “certainly one of the outstanding researchers in this University and would be considered outstanding in any University I know of (and I was on the MIT faculty for 19 years).”

Shoemaker then described Hedberg’s scientific impact

Dr. Hedberg’s research specialty is determination of molecular structure by gas phase electron diffraction. In this field he has risen to the position of world leader, eclipsing all others in my judgement (and I am close to the field, being an x-ray diffractionist). This field had a heyday a quarter century ago, and many people said that there would be nothing left to work on in a short time. However, largely due to the ingenuity of Professor Hedberg, the field is still (or rather again) going strong.

Along with his own letter, Shoemaker also forwarded support notices penned by a collection of Hedberg’s former students. One wrote that “With all Ken has done for me it would be hard for me to name a person I think more highly of,” and recalled that “His enthusiasm in participating in experimental activities along with the students and a primary interest in developing a person as a scientist and member of society, not just a well-qualified technician, are traits of Ken’s that made his guidance most useful to me.”

hedberg-1970s

Another student wrote that “He was the most influential person in my undergraduate chemistry education” and “was able to communicate to the students according to the level of their background…Professor Hedberg was extremely fair and expected fairness and honesty from his students.” The student then added that “Although he had research assistants and post-doctoral fellows, he took the time himself to show and explain the experimental procedures to this undergraduate student. He cultivated independent and rational thinking throughout the progress of the research….He is a man of integrity, leadership and honesty. He is one of the best teachers I have ever had and one of the best persons I have known.”

Many years later, in 2010, another former student wrote to the OSU alumni magazine to comment on a profile that had been published in a recent issue. The student wrote

I was thrilled to read that Ken Hedberg is still with us and still carrying out his very important research. I took his chemistry class as an engineering freshman 50 years ago. In one lab session we had a nice conversation about cars…I remember the exchange after all these years because he was such a nice guy and so good to us poor confused undergraduates, always cracking gentle jokes during lecture and helping us in every way he could…OSU is blessed to have him, and I am blessed to have known him.


Page-44-900w

A page from Ken Hedberg’s “visiting researcher scrapbook,” a sixty-three page volume that contains photos and inscriptions from all of the researchers who visited Corvallis to conduct work in the Hedberg electron diffraction laboratory.

A few years ago, Ken and Lise Hedberg entered into a retained life estate agreement with OSU, in which they effectively transferred ownership of their home to the university at the ends of their lives. Once sold, the proceeds will be used to create two new endowed scholarships and to add to the Ken and Lise Hedberg Endowed Student Fund for chemistry doctoral students. Giving back to OSU was important to Ken for many reasons, and the imperative to support undergraduate learning especially so because of Hedberg’s own student experience during the Depression. “As I look back over a very long career,” he noted, “I see that the good fortune I’ve enjoyed was kicked-started by scholarship aid; without it I don’t think any of this would have happened.”

Ken Hedberg’s career was defined by scientific excellence, but even more so by his collaborative spirit and his relationship with his wife Lise, who was his scientific partner as well as his life partner from the day they met until his death this year. Science, for Hedberg, was a social endeavor as well as an academic one, and his lab was a hotspot for visiting researchers from around the world as well as a safe space for generations of OSU chemistry students. With his passing the university has lost a true icon, but his impact will be felt for many years to come.

Remembering Ken Hedberg: Part 4, An Influential Friendship

Ken Hedberg performing in “The Road to Stockholm: The Appalling Life of Linus Pauling,” December 1954. Hedberg and other Caltech colleagues sang and danced on stage to celebrate Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Chemistry Prize.

[Celebrating the life of Dr. Kenneth Hedberg (1920-2019), part 4 of 5.]

Though he left Caltech at the end of 1955, Ken Hedberg maintained a friendship with Linus Pauling that lasted for the rest of Pauling’s life. Despite their physical distance, the two kept an active correspondence and Pauling sometimes sent samples from his own research for Hedberg to run through his electron diffraction apparatus in Corvallis. Pauling also wrote multiple letters of recommendation in support of various fellowship applications submitted by his former student, frequently noting the many important contributions that Hedberg had made to the field of electron diffraction.


James Jensen, President of Oregon State University from 1961-1969.

Hedberg’s friendship with Pauling turned out to be especially fruitful for Oregon State University, because it was partially through his persistent efforts that the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers made their way to OSU.

The story begins in the early 1960s, when Hedberg was chatting with Ava Helen Pauling at a banquet where they happened to be seated next to each other. During the course of the conversation, Ava Helen revealed that she and her husband had been pondering the question of what to do with their papers when they died, noting that they had received expressions of interest from several universities and other institutions. Although OSU was not among those courting the Paulings, Ava Helen felt that their alma mater was the right home for the materials and had run this idea past her husband. Though Linus had been embroiled in a rift with the university for most of the 1950s (over the firing of his former student, Ralph Spitzer, on political grounds), Ava Helen was now trying to convince him to “let bygones be bygones” and renew his bond with Oregon State.

Ava Helen also confided that Pauling was not happy with offers that he had received from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, Caltech, and many other highly-respected institutions, because they only wanted his papers and not hers, wanted to cherry pick the items that they would keep (Pauling wanted everything kept together), or wanted the papers right away, despite Pauling’s need to retain many of them for his ongoing research.

Hedberg was fully aware that, were OSU to be selected by Pauling as the repository for his papers, the announcement would serve as a major boost in prestige. He also understood that if Pauling’s bitterness against the university were to be assuaged, the conciliation would have to come from the university president. In short order, Hedberg wrote to OSU President James Jensen, stating that “…it seems to me that Pauling’s eminence in science and in world affairs together with his historical association with the State of Oregon and Oregon State University makes this a proper place for these papers.” He further suggested that if “…handled correctly, it might be possible for Oregon State to obtain these papers.”


Pauling’s split with Oregon State College came about as a direct result of actions taken by President August Strand, who led the institution from 1942 to 1961. His successor was James Jensen, who took over shortly after OSC became OSU, and it was under Jensen’s watch that the relationship with Pauling came to be repaired. Spurred by Hedberg’s note, Jensen wrote to Pauling lamenting the rift that had grown between him and the university, assuring him that he remained one of the university’s most beloved alumni, and concluding that

When it comes time to think of a repository for your letters and other documentary matters, I hope you will consider the possibilities of Oregon State University and its repository of important papers which is located within a stone’s throw of where you and Mrs. Pauling met!

Jensen also created a Distinguished Service Award in 1964 and made Pauling the first recipient.

Finally, in 1966, the president extended an invitation to Pauling to speak at the university, which was accepted. In December of that year, he delivered a well-attended convocation lecture titled “Science and the Future of Man” at Gill Coliseum. It was the first talk that he had given on the Oregon State campus since a 1937 lecture on hemoglobin and magnetism, which he had presented at the dedication ceremonies for the Oregon State chapter of the Sigma Xi scientific research honorary.

1966n.104

With the ice finally broken, Pauling began returning to the university more frequently, eventually regaining his old affection for OSU and choosing to make trips to Corvallis whenever he was passing through the area. Pauling also admitted that he was “pleased” by OSU’s request for his papers, telling Jensen that in addition to OSU, he had offers in hand from the Library of Congress, the American Philosophical Society, and the University of Oregon, among others. As he continued to ponder the final home for his materials, he asked that Jensen have the university archivist send him a letter describing OSU’s archival facilities and the plans that it would put in place for the preservation and use of the papers.

In March 1967 Jensen again wrote to Pauling, this time including a draft donation agreement as well as the requested comments on facilities from the university archivist. By July, Pauling had largely been won over and claimed that he felt ready to begin giving his papers to the university. That said, he was as busy as ever and seemed reluctant to actually part with any of his material. His continuing research and trips to Europe, combined with disruptive California wildfires, meant that he never had time for OSU’s archivist to visit him to evaluate and organize the collection.


For whatever reason, Pauling continued the stall tactics for the remainder of Jensen’s tenure as president. In 1972, Hedberg wrote to Jensen’s successor, Robert MacVicar, to loop him in on the conversation. In addition to forwarding copies of past communications between himself, Jensen, and Pauling, Hedberg expressed his point of view that Jensen’s negotiations seemed to have been successful, but hastened to add that a final agreement was never reached. Jensen, sensing Pauling’s hesitation, had eventually stopped asking about the papers for fear of endangering the relationship that he had successfully rehabilitated.

Hedberg encouraged MacVicar to pick up where Jensen had left off in trying to obtain the papers. MacVicar took the suggestion to heart and contacted Pauling, but kept Hedberg in the loop since he knew Pauling so well. Over time, Hedberg was able to mediate communications somewhat, often advising MacVicar on how he thought Pauling might interpret different phrases of a draft letter and predicting how he would respond. Pauling still felt that he was not ready to part with the papers, so MacVicar followed Jensen’s precedent and focused on maintaining a good relationship with Pauling with the occasional gentle reminder about his promise to give his papers to OSU.

Activist Norman Cousins, Portland mayor Bud Clark, Linus Pauling and OSU President John Byrne at a celebration marking Pauling’s donation of his papers to Oregon State University.

Ava Helen passed away in 1981 and the next year Hedberg helped to found the Ava Helen Pauling Lectureship on World Peace at OSU. Meanwhile, in 1984 John Byrne replaced MacVicar as OSU president and, once again, Hedberg forwarded copies of past correspondence and encouraged the new president to continue the effort. Byrne saw that, while his predecessors had succeeded in winning Pauling over, their gentle reminders had done little to motivate Pauling to actually make the donation.

Byrne decided to change tactics by setting up a committee to handle the negotiations, from which emerged a concrete offer to build a Special Collections unit that would house and manage the donated materials. Byrne also agreed to all of Pauling’s requests regarding the treatment of the collection: namely, that Ava Helen’s papers be included in the acquisition, that the collection be kept intact, that the collection be made available for use by any qualified researcher, and that Pauling himself also receive unfettered access should he need to consult any of his old letters or manuscripts. Among these requests, the Ava Helen piece was likely the most significant; with her passing, it became particularly important to Pauling that her papers be treated with the same deference as his own.

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Hedberg and Pauling among others at an event celebrating the donation of the Pauling Papers to Oregon State University, April 1986.

At long last, on April 18, 1986, Pauling formally announced that he would be transferring his papers to the Oregon State University Libraries. The first item that Pauling sent to OSU was the three volume United Nations Bomb Test Petition, an encapsulation of the work for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. Other materials were added gradually over the rest of his life, once he had decided that he did not need them for his current research activities. Eventually the university sent a representative to Deer Flat Ranch to see how big the Pauling collection was, and they found that he had over 90 filing cabinets full of materials just at his Big Sur home.


As Pauling made more frequent trips to Corvallis, Hedberg was usually assigned to act as his guide and chaperone. On one reminiscent wander around campus, Pauling pointed out to him the room in present-day Furman Hall where he first met Ava Helen. He also showed Hedberg the house on 15th street where he had lived as a student.

Frequently, the Hedbergs and the Paulings were participants in the same dinner parties, some of which were hosted by Ken and Lise. Pauling was fond of vodka and often favored a drink prior to attending a formal event; Ken always made sure that Pauling’s preferred brand was in the cabinet. Another time, at a dinner party hosted by the Hedbergs, Pauling recognized the wine that they served as being of the same vintage as that served at a similar party the previous year. Hedberg was shocked that, of all the dinner parties and events that Pauling attended, he would remember the wine that had been served at a particular gathering a year prior.

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Ken Hedberg, David Shoemaker and Lise Hedberg at a dinner party hosted by OSU President John Byrne, 1991. Linus Pauling was seated across the table from Ken Hedberg.

Though they saw one another with some frequency, Pauling and Hedberg continued to make time to provide updates on their lives through correspondence. Pauling wrote to Hedberg about his own rectal cancer, and Hedberg asked Pauling for advice concerning a friend’s inoperable cancer and for managing Lise’s arthritis. Ken also shared the unhappy news when their mutual colleague, David Shoemaker, died of complications related to kidney disease. Ken likewise expressed his frustrations to Pauling when the National Science Foundation reduced his grant funding in 1992 due to concerns about his age.

Political and social issues also frequently came up in Pauling and Hedberg’s communications, and the two friends tended to share a similar mindset on the issues of the day. Like Pauling, Hedberg was firmly opposed to the use of nuclear weapons and, following a 1961 visit to Hiroshima, wrote that “…I believe world peace could be assured by simply escorting the world’s political leaders through the park and museum.” In a different letter written that same year, Hedberg confided that

Lise and I…were utterly dismayed at the resumption of nuclear testing. Most of us feel that the fallout problem is bad enough, but what really frightens is the return to the mailed fist kind of diplomacy they represent… I’m quite convinced that the world is controlled by people gone mad. My more optimistic friends aren’t so worried – ‘after all, another world war is unthinkable.’ What impresses me over and over, though, is how full of irrational people the world is, how singularly alike in some respects the opinions of such people are, and how easily national attitudes seem to be born of such opinions… Most people seem unable to comprehend that the ancient techniques of enforcing national interests on an international scale will lead only to their destruction. Perhaps a part of this is due, at least on the local scene, to what people imagine death to be like. Corvallis is a religious town, and as one of my physicist friends put it, ‘most people here feel that death is a new experience, rather than what it is – the complete absence of experience for all eternity.’


Hedberg retired from OSU in 1987, a moment that prompted a letter of congratulations from his friend and former mentor. In it, Pauling confessed that “I remember you, Ken, as one of my favorite graduate students in the California Institute of Technology.” Once his retirement festivities were completed, Hedberg penned a note of gratitude in response.

I think this is also the time for me to tell you how much I have appreciated your help and support during my professional career. You’ve written many recommendations on my behalf without which my life would have been totally different. It would have been nearly impossible to build my laboratory without help from the Research Corp., the Sloan Foundation, and others, to which you sent words on my behalf. Perhaps you are even responsible for Lise’s entering my life – without my Guggenheim to Norway we would never have met! And lastly, you are surely responsible for my accepting a position here at Oregon State. You encouraged me to accept the job, and apart from problems at the start, Lise and I have been very happy here.

Remembering Ken Hedberg: Part 3, On Faculty at Oregon State

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Ken Hedberg, a colleague, and the Hedberg electron diffraction apparatus, 1960.

[Kenneth W. Hedberg (1920-2019) in memorium, part 3 of 5.]

Ken and Lise Hedberg, along with their three-month old son Erik, moved back to Corvallis in January 1956 during a heavy storm. As the couple approached their final destination, Hedberg remembers water reaching almost to the hubcaps of their car. When they finally did make it to Corvallis, the city was largely flooded for the next couple of days.

In a turn of events that fit well with the dreary weather, on Ken’s first day of work at Oregon State College he learned that, in addition to his supervisory responsibilities, he would also be teaching a graduate-level physical chemistry course. The class was scheduled to meet three hours a week and he had been given no time at all to prepare lecture notes. Hedberg ultimately made it through the term, during which he tracked the time that he had spent on teaching-related activities. Including office hours and lesson planning, and found that he averaged 56 hours per week just on his instructional work.

At the same time, Ken was also tasked with getting his research program running. The first step in doing so entailed designing and building an electron diffraction apparatus for which he had received a $30,000 grant. He made an arrangement with the Physics workshop on campus to have the machine constructed, overseeing the process from start to finish. The device took several years to complete, but it worked well and has been used to significant effect for more than fifty-five years. Indeed, Linus Pauling was one of many colleagues from around the world to run samples through the instrument.


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When it was built, Hedberg’s gas phase electron diffraction apparatus was state of the art, and during most of his career there were only two laboratories in the U.S. that could perform similar work. As time moved forward and other techniques were developed, gas phase electron diffraction fell out of view for many scientists, thus rendering Hedberg’s lab even more valuable for those who wished to employ the methodology in their advancement of basic science. As a result, Hedberg rarely encountered difficulty in acquiring grant support. His position as a hub for electron diffraction research also led to his making and maintaining a vast number of friendships with scientists across the globe.

The electron diffraction unit that Hedberg built utilizes a nozzle to release gas-phase samples in a stream that runs perpendicular to a vertical beam of electrons. The collision that ensues scatters the electron beam and results in a diffraction pattern that is subsequently recorded on a photographic plate fixed at the bottom of the device. These diffraction patterns are then analyzed to determine specific characteristics of the sample in question. It only takes a few minutes to run a sample, so lots of substances can be run in a day, but the analysis takes much longer — elucidating molecular structures from diffraction patterns is a complicated process.

Another hurdle that Hedberg sometimes faced was transforming particular substances into a gas phase in order to enable this type of analysis in the first place. One notable example was C60, which needs to be heated to 800°C to obtain any kind of vapor. Another instance was N2O4, which degrades to NO2 very rapidly as temperature and pressure increase. Nobody knew for sure if it was even possible to run gas phase electron diffraction analysis on these two substances but, in both instances, Hedberg and his team found a way to create the sample and collect the data.


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David and Clara Shoemaker analyzing diffractometer data, 1983

A few months after he had arrived back in Corvallis, Hedberg wrote to Pauling to provide an update on how he was settling in. He reported that, as expected, he and Lise both liked Oregon a lot, and that Erik was growing very fast and had learned a few Norwegian words. He also let Pauling know that his picture was on display in the Memorial Union, one in a series featuring distinguished alumni of the college.

Ken’s correspondence with old Caltech colleagues was certainly not limited to Pauling and, in one particular instance, Hedberg’s connections played a key role in shaping the Chemistry department at Oregon State. When the chair’s position in Chemistry opened up in the late 1960s, Hedberg encouraged his former Caltech office-mate, David Shoemaker, to consider the opportunity. Shoemaker was then on faculty at MIT but he had ties to the west and was open to the idea of returning to that side of the country. He and his wife, Clara Brink Shoemaker, were both distinguished crystallographers, and one of David’s conditions for coming to OSU was that Clara be offered a research position as well.

This condition presented a bit of a problem due to a Depression-era anti-nepotism law that prevented members of the same family from being employed in the same department, except under unusual circumstances. Ken and Lise Hedberg had been able to work together because OSU’s president, Robert MacVicar, good-naturedly regarded a husband-wife scientific team to be an “unusual circumstance.” He allowed the Shoemakers to use the same loophole with one stipulation: officially, Hedberg was to serve as Clara’s supervisor and Shoemaker as Lise’s. This arrangement stood as a running joke between the two couples for several years until the rules were ultimately relaxed.


Three years after he came back to Oregon State, Hedberg was moved into the physical chemistry division of the Chemistry department. With that change, Ken still taught general chemistry and took up new courses in physical chemistry, but was no longer responsible for supervising the department’s graduate teaching assistants. His teaching load remained heavy for a while as he prepared lecture notes for his new classes, but eventually he settled into a more manageable routine. When he finally achieved that balance, Oregon State revealed itself to be a very comfortable place. The Chemistry department was cohesive and friendly, dinner parties and holiday gatherings were common within the faculty, and the competitive divisiveness that often plagues academic units was refreshingly lacking.

Meanwhile, life continued to evolve for Lise as well. During their years together in Pasadena, the Hedbergs had worked as a team on a variety of electron diffraction projects. And although Lise wanted to continue her work at Oregon State, she was unable to for the first few years because she needed to care for young Erik. Their daughter, Anne Katherine – known as Katrina – was born a couple of years after the move to Corvallis, thus further extending Lise’s stay-at-home period.

At long last, when the kids were finally old enough to go to school, Lise would drop them off in the mornings, head over to the university to work in the lab, and then pick them up at the end of the school day. Later, when they were old enough to get to school on their own, she would watch them leave the house and then be home in time to meet them in the afternoons. According to Ken, it took a while for the Hedberg children to realize that their mother worked out of the home, because she was always there when they left and waiting when they got back.


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Wine tasting with Kolbjörn Hagen in 2008

In a 2011 oral history interview, Hedberg identified his proudest accomplishment as having overcome his humble beginnings to live a happy, successful life. In offering these reflections, he was quick to point out several moments where small twists of fortune made a dramatic impact on the trajectory of his life. Chief among these was his fateful late fellowship application that ultimately led to him going to Norway instead of Belgium. He mused that if he had submitted the first application on time, he would never have met Lise nor had any of the professional and personal affiliations in Norway that he enjoyed throughout his life.

Indeed, Norway was a critical component of Hedberg’s journey, both personal and scientific. Over the years, the Hedbergs returned to the country numerous times on sabbatical and research trips, and also to visit Lise’s family. The scientific work that they conducted during these visits ultimately led to numerous decorations for Ken. By the end of this life, he had received an honorary degree from the University of Trondheim – offered for “more than 40 years in collaboration with scientists from Japan, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, Great Britain, Hungary, Austria and China” – and been inducted into the Norwegian Academy of Sciences. One one occasion, Hedberg met the Norwegian king at a banquet and spent much of the evening talking with Crown Prince Harald.

Likewise, many of the students with whom he worked in the Oslo and Trondheim electron diffraction labs made their own visits to Corvallis to collaborate with Ken. One of these individuals, Kolbjörn Hagen, emerged as an especially important research colleague, as well as a dear friend.

Collaboration was a fundamental component of Hedberg’s approach to science, and throughout the years his most important scientific colleague was Lise, an expert computer programmer. While Ken took the lead in experimentation and analysis of diffraction patterns, it was Lise who wrote or tweaked many of the programs that the Hedbergs used in their work. In a letter that David Shoemaker wrote to OSU’s Dean of Science, he noted that the Hedberg lab contained a library of computer programs unmatched by any other lab of its kind, due to Lise’s expertise. Shoemaker also wrote that

…Professor Hedberg has more understanding of the nature of chemical bonding in molecules than any other person in the Chemistry Department or on the Oregon State University campus. Perhaps one can even include all of Oregon, except when Linus Pauling is visiting.

The Hedbergs’ son Erik was also handy with computers and often helped his parents manage their programs. The family published two papers together – one by Ken, Lise, and Erik, and one by Ken, Lise, and Katrina – and the authorship shorthand of “Hedberg, Hedberg and Hedberg” was a source of continuing delight for Ken.


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In 1983 Ken notified Shoemaker that, after twenty-seven years on faculty, he felt ready to retire, which he did officially in 1987. Hedberg’s primary motivation for this change was to free himself from his teaching burden, but he had no intention of stopping his research.

A few years into his so-called “retirement,” Hedberg wrote to Pauling to provide an update on his life. Amidst news about family, travel and tennis, he noted with glee the enjoyment that he was experiencing in being able to work 12-hour days in his lab. This remained the pattern of Hedberg’s life for another thirty years, a run of time marked by steady grant funding, continuing research, collaboration with faculty colleagues, supervision of graduate students, and mentorship of OSU undergraduates several decades his junior.