One World Away: Kiang’s Great Unity and Pauling’s Press for Peace

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[Ed Note: With the conclusion of the academic year here at Oregon State University, we say goodbye to Student Archivist Ethan Heusser, who has written extensively on the Special Collections and Archives Research Center’s rare book collections at our sister blog, Rare@OSU. Today and over the next three weeks, we will share three Pauling-related posts that Ethan wrote over the course of his tenure working for us.]

Many Americans – and people around the globe – experienced the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s as an age of political uncertainty and social turmoil. It was a powerful time: everywhere the specter of disaster loomed, yet that fear brought with it a unique capacity for change enabled by commonplace desperation. In the United States alone, mounting resistance to the Vietnam War built confidence among grass-roots activist organizations for their efficacy in up-ending the status quo. And while mutually assured destruction terrified the world, the threat of nuclear war also inspired many thinkers and activists to strive for equally bold solutions. In the light of world chaos and potential mass destruction, the idea of building a global government and abolishing nationalism seemed especially promising – far more promising than what the United Nations seemed ultimately able to provide.

It’s no surprise, then, to see a large proliferation in world peace literature in the Cold War era. Some publications were mild and innocuous, but many took the form of bold declarations and manifestos about the urgent need for radical change.

An excellent example of the latter is One World: The Approach to Permanent Peace on Earth and the General Happiness of Mankind by John Kiang. Self-described as “a manifesto of revolution for world union with the evolutionary law of group expansion as a guiding theory,” it examines shifting technologies and living conditions to build a larger argument in favor of a unified humanity. From that perspective, nations and nation-states can only be seen as counter-productive: the deep-seated but fundamentally arbitrary veil of nationalism impedes sincere appeals to common humanity and mutual accountability.

Although the core text is fairly concise, this copy of One World is a scholarly edition from 1984, replete with extensive sources, commentary, and analysis:

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In this work we see the role that cultural context can play in international movements: though not explicitly outlined, One Worldcontains thematic and rhetorical ties to the utopic vision of “Great Unity” in China. Great Unity represents the goal of creating a Chinese society of mutual accountability and selflessness – a cohesive community where people work to help others rather than harm them.

First described in classic Chinese texts going back millennia, Great Unity was popularized by Sun Yat-Sen in the early 20th century. In doing so, it was used to help build a cultural momentum in favor of a shift towards a communist ideal. The Great Unity message was adopted overtly in China’s national anthem in 1937; though later supplanted with another song in the People’s Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War, it remains in use by Taiwan to this day.

John Kiang left China in 1949 in the wake of the earth-shattering Chinese Civil War. It seems fair to suggest that he nevertheless brought the culturally-specific vision of world peace, prosperity, and harmony with him stateside. It’s hard for those of us living in our countries of birth to imagine the inner turmoil he must have felt during that time, working for global peace a world away while his homeland was experiencing such complete upheaval and division. Perhaps that effort helped him, in some way, to bring his home with him and improve the world as a result.

These efforts manifested in One World. Though a relatively obscure book, One World at last found some degree of traction once it found its way into the hands of two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling – surprisingly, Pauling was willing to attach his name to it in the form of a guest introduction.

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As a famous peace activist, Pauling was a prime recipient of unsolicited manuscripts, book ideas, calls for action, and reference requests. But of all of the texts he received and was asked to endorse, why would he choose one such as this?

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A large factor was undoubtedly Kiang’s persistent correspondence with Pauling. He wrote with Pauling repeatedly between 1983-4, praising Pauling’s efforts and experience and asking for an introduction to One World. Pauling consistently refused, citing his lack of expertise in Kiang’s specific subject area. This pseudo-humble approach to refusing unsolicited (and often wacky) manuscripts was trademark for Pauling during his peak social activism years. Then, somehow, everything changed for One World. Somehow, Pauling changed his mind. We have as proof Pauling’s written introduction documented in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Collection, along with letters and cards from the Kiang family thanking him for his collaboration:

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Even when meticulously compiled and researched, correspondence collections can still resist post hoc scrutiny. We hold a substantial set of letters between the two activists, but we lack the connection point between the “before” and “after” of when Pauling agreed to add his name to Kiang’s One World project. Was it a letter that went missing? A phone call? An in-person visit? Kiang later sent Pauling a photo of a meeting between them, but the context for how and when it happened is largely absent.

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Another probable factor is that the content and message of the book aligned well with Pauling’s driving fears for the future. As Pauling writes in his introduction, “[Kiang’s] principal message is that war has now ruled itself out.” For Pauling, the atom bomb meant that “a war in which the existing nuclear weapons were used would with little doubt mean the end of our civilization, and possibly the end of the human race.” Perhaps that in itself built enough common ground between two men of different backgrounds and fields of expertise to collaborate – if only in a minor way – on what must have felt like a higher calling. (Pauling’s endorsement would be used in later work by John Kiang as well, but always from a distanced position.)

On a general level, One World embodies the slippery way that ideas persist, spread, and evolve. Just like how John Kiang built his own vision upon seeds planted by Sun Yat-Sen and many authors before him, it will be fascinating to witness how the Cold War push towards internationally-regulated peace and world government will rear its head again on the world stage in the decades to come.

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Pauling, Stanford and Activism – Part 2

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Linus Pauling and others protesting the dismissal of H. Bruce Franklin, September 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

[The seventh and final post in our series on Linus Pauling’s association with Stanford University.]

In the wake of a series of heated and, at times, violent anti-war protests on and near campus, university president Richard W. Lyman moved to have tenured English professor H. Bruce Franklin dismissed from the Stanford faculty. In so doing, Lyman accused Franklin of having incited violence during a speech that he had given. Lyman also viewed Franklin as an enduring threat to others at Stanford.

Linus Pauling disagreed with this course of action and decided to question Lyman directly. In a handwritten note generated in preparation for remarks delivered to the Academic Senate, Pauling stressed that

The ‘misbehavior’ which he [Franklin] is accused was not in connection with his academic duties. It is my understanding that Professor Franklin has not been charged with misbehavior or neglect or malfeasance in connection with his teaching or other academic duties.

Neither did Pauling see “any credible justification” that Franklin was a threat to others. As such, Pauling concluding that Lyman’s case stood as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violation of the principles of academic freedom and individual rights – a really dangerous introduction of authoritarianism in the University.”

Pauling had also saved a copy of a letter that Franklin wrote to Lyman at the end of February 1971. In it, Franklin accused the president of using the press – and especially the Stanford University media apparatus – as a lever to turn Stanford’s faculty against him. Instead of taking this approach, Franklin felt that Lyman should issue his accusations directly, rather than operating in innuendos such as “acting in an unlawful manner” and “playing a role in tragic events.”

Franklin further noted that these vague charges, as issued by Lyman, would appear in affidavits submitted for his forthcoming court appearance, thus putting Franklin in a position that he characterized as “First the sentence, then the defense, and finally the charges.”


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Bruce Franklin at a Stanford University demonstration, February 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

Franklin’s day before a judge came the next week, but he was not fighting a solitary battle. The day before, Pauling and fifty-four others had appeared in court on his behalf in an attempt to block an injunction that had been issued against him and over 1,000 others. Pauling and his colleagues argued that the injunction would have “no effect on the underlying causes of campus unrest. If anything, it may serve to hinder the analysis and correction of Stanford problems.”

The group further described their action as having been inspired by the lack of a response by academics against the Nazis in the 1930s. In tandem, over 100 members of the Academic Council at Stanford issued their own warning against Lyman’s actions, stating that his decrees would “create an institutional orthodoxy which makes ‘heretics’ out of those who disagree.”

The following day, Franklin made his appearance in court. A subsequent press release described a portion of Franklin’s closing argument in which he stated

I would say frankly that when I read of the bombing of the [U.S.] Senate yesterday [by the Weather Underground], I thought that that was a wonderful act and I understand that according to what is left of our rights in this country, that one supposedly has the right not only to believe that, but to say what I just said. The advocates of free speech are not prepared to allow free speech to people who think those thoughts and say those things… when a peaceful sit-in or advocacy of a strike is threatened as criminal behavior, the state teaches us a lesson – that our revolutionary analysis is correct and that at some time we should advocate immediate armed struggle against the state.

When the petition to the Advisory Board in support of Franklin was delivered at the end of April, faculty members also addressed the Academic Council on the matter. A statement that Pauling saved from this meeting described how faculty were most “concerned with the intimidating effect upon all of us, in carrying out our obligations to our consciences and to the University community, if the exercise of the First Amendment rights on this campus can be penalized by loss of tenure and dismissal.”

They likewise invoked the Nuremberg trials as a precedent to question Henry Cabot Lodge’s role in “criminal war policies,” and cited the First Amendment in support of Franklin having protested Lodge’s appearance at Stanford.


About a month later, with the situation at Stanford beginning to calm down, Pauling gave the commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, stressing his own commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In his address, Pauling stressed a basic belief system that had guided him for decades:

I believe that it is possible to formulate a fundamental principle of morality, acceptable by all human beings, and that this principle of morality can and should be used as a basis for making all decisions. The principle is this: that decisions among alternative courses of action should be made in such ways as to minimize the predicted amounts of human suffering.

In early June, at about the same time as Pauling’s speech, Bruce Franklin was formally suspended from Stanford without pay. That September, at the beginning of the next academic year, Pauling voiced his continuing objection to Franklin’s treatment by adding his name to a “Statement of Faculty Opposed to Political Firings.”


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The statement not only addressed the Franklin affair, but also the firing of Sam Bridges, an African-American janitor at the Stanford Medical Center. In so doing, the statement connected the Franklin and Bridges incidents, noting that they were both “sharp reminders of the acute problems of racism and war” and arguing that “the time and energy of the University should be directed towards the solution of the problems, not toward the punishment of protesters.”

Pauling does not appear to have been as involved in the Bridges case, but he did save newspaper clippings and statements issued by Stanford Medical Center officials surrounding the April 1971 affair. According to a Stanford Daily article published after the incident, Bridges had been speaking with fellow employees about racist hiring policies at the medical center.

Specifically, Bridges told his colleagues that he had been prevented from advancing within the hospital while others from the outside had been brought in to fill vacancies for which he was qualified; vacancies that would have served as a step up the ladder for Bridges. Other employees responded with similar stories, and Bridges shared them as well. Not everyone that Bridges spoke with was sympathetic however, and some complained. Within a week of these complaints being issued, Bridges was fired without any possibility of submitting a grievance.

The Black Advisory Council at the medical center investigated the firing and found that there had been several complaints against Bridges for not doing his work and for being verbally abusive. Some of these statements were subsequently withdrawn, an action that precipitated an occupation of the medical center building with the occupiers calling for Bridges to be rehired.

Once the occupation had passed its thirtieth hour, police cleared the space using tear gas and by breaking down the door of the office in which the occupiers had sealed themselves. Afterwards, the medical center allowed Bridges to pursue grievance procedures. He chose not to pursue this option, believing that it would not lead anywhere productive. Instead, he devoted more of his time to coordination efforts with the medical center’s Black Worker’s Caucus.

While the Bridges affair resolved itself fairly quickly, Bruce Franklin’s case dragged into the next year. In January 1972, nearly a year to the day of his initial demonstration again Henry Cabot Lodge, the Faculty Advisory Board voted to formally dismiss Franklin, effective August 1972. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, Franklin attempted to fight the decision, but to no avail.

Pauling saved a March 1972 article from Science which reported that Franklin “hoped” for violence in response to his dismissal, and that arson and vandalism on campus had indeed followed. The article also quoted Pauling on the decision, which he described as “A great blow, not just to academic freedom, but to freedom of speech.”

Pauling, Stanford and Activism – Part 1

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[Part 6 of 7 in our series reviewing Linus Pauling’s years on faculty at Stanford University.]

It should come as no surprise that, while at Stanford, Linus Pauling kept a close watch on political activism, both on and around campus. While much of the material that Pauling saved would suggest that he was mostly an observer, a look through the Stanford Daily archives shows that, in fact, he continued to speak on topics related to peace and non-violent protest.

During the years of Pauling’s association with Stanford, both faculty and students alike were involved in demonstrations related to the Vietnam War, which expanded into Cambodia in early 1970, Pauling’s first academic year in Palo Alto. Pauling collected a number of newspaper clippings documenting the protests and occupations that arose that spring in response. Pauling also retained a copy of a letter that Stanford President Kenneth S. Pitzer had sent to President Richard Nixon in which he asked Nixon not to further extend the United States military’s presence in Southeast Asia, arguing that it would only serve to further polarize the citizens from their government.

Around this time, Pauling also received a letter from a group called The Vigilantes, who wrote

We are coming to Stanford to show you our form of demonstration and violence. The first one to get the bullet between the eyes will be you… We know all about you from San Diego… Your days are numbered… we’ll get you.

Though unsettling, this was far from the first time that Pauling had received a death threat. It is unclear who the group exactly was or why they had decided to target Pauling. Fortunately, nothing more came of their threat.


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H. Bruce Franklin being interviewed at a press conference, January 1971. Credit: Stanford University Libraries.

It appears that Pauling kept out of much of the direct action, but remained a close observer of those who did participate in demonstrations and how they were treated. One key incident in particular involved a tenured English professor, H. Bruce Franklin, who had been involved in several demonstrations protesting the U. S. military’s actions in Southeast Asia. Pauling collected and saved numerous press releases, newspaper articles, and other documents related to Franklin.

Franklin appears to have first come to Pauling’s attention in early January 1971. At that time, a group of faculty and students had disrupted a speech given at the Hoover Institute by Henry Cabot Lodge, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Vatican. Previously, Lodge had served as ambassador to Vietnam, having been appointed by President Kennedy in 1963. In this capacity, Lodge was involved in the development of both diplomatic and war strategies relating to the Vietnam up through the late 1960s.

After being interrupted during his speech, Lodge moved to a smaller room to continue his talk, commenting that those who shouted over him were “afraid of the truth.” Bruce Franklin was among those subsequently charged by Stanford’s administration for interfering with the event.

In explaining his actions to Richard W. Lyman, by then the Stanford president, Franklin argued that his own “heckling” was not in any way a punishable offense. Lyman disagreed with Franklin’s use of the term “heckling,” and specified that he had been charged with “deliberately contributing to the disturbance which forced the cancellation of the speech.” Lyman continued,

the gravity of the charge cannot be lessened by giving it an amusing-sounding name, for it is an offense that strikes at the University’s obligation to maintain itself as an open forum.

The Stanford president believed that Franklin’s offense was severe enough as to merit suspension without pay for the academic quarter following the resolution of the case. John Keilch, a 24-year-old University Library staff member who was alleged to have also participated in the demonstration, faced a similar suspension. Six students were likewise punished.


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Franklin continued to speak out in the midst of all this. At the end of January, he took part in a demonstration with about 200 others in support of Los Siete — six Latino youths who had been charged with armed robbery and car theft. At the event, demonstrators clashed with police and Franklin was charged with felonious assault for elbowing a police officer in the ribs while the officer pushed Franklin in the back with a baton.

According to the Stanford Daily, Los Siete had previously been acquitted of murdering a police officer, and the new charges of theft had been brought forward following their acquittal. The paper also reported that five police officers had grabbed Franklin, kicking him in the groin and striking him with clubs.

A different newspaper article that was retained by Pauling was far less sympathetic towards Franklin. This piece, which also centered on the Los Siete demonstration, described Franklin as a “proclaimed Maoist” and a member of the “militant” Venceremos, and then printed his home address. Pauling’s reactions to the article are delineated in red ink. He clearly disagreed with the charges brought against Franklin, writing in the margins

Provocation? Marchers had permit for sidewalk. Arrested at RR crossing where sidewalk is not well demarcated from street. Police cars + other cars blocked intersection.

Pauling also drew quotes from the article in support of his position:

“Line of marchers was impeded + some spilled into roadway.” “Franklin elbowed a policeman in the ribs.”

At the end of his notes, Pauling simply wrote, “!FELONIOUS ASSAULT!”


None of this seemed to slow Franklin down. According to a chronology of events created by those supporting his activism, he was also involved in a rally in early February. At this gathering of roughly 750 people, Franklin advocated “shutting down the most obvious machinery of war” on campus, the Stanford Computation Center. In due course, some 150 people – Franklin not included – occupied the center for three hours until it was cleared out by the police.

A second rally of roughly 350 people followed immediately afterwards. Franklin again spoke, telling those in the crowd to return home to form smaller groups and to plan actions that would avoid the attention of the police. The chronology states that, later, “beatings of both conservative and radical students occur, and a high school student is shot in the thigh.”

President Lyman blamed the violence on Franklin, declaring that he “threatens harm to himself and others.” In a Statement of Charges against Franklin, which described the rally in a very different light than the chronology, Lyman wrote,

During the course of the rally, Professor Franklin intentionally urged and incited students and other persons present to engage in conduct calculated to disrupt University functions and business, and which threatened injury to individuals and property. Shortly thereafter, students and other persons were assaulted by persons present at the rally, and later that evening other acts of violence occurred.

In addition to documenting Franklin’s history as they had viewed it, the authors of the chronology created a petition. The intent of this document was that it be presented to Stanford’s Advisory Board, arguing in favor of Franklin’s activities and right to free speech. Linus Pauling’s signature was among those included on this petition.

Pauling’s First Paper on the Nature of the Chemical Bond

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Linus and Ava Helen Pauling in Munich, with Walter Heitler (left) and Fritz London (right), 1927.

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s first paper on the nature of the chemical bond, published in April 1931. Part 2 of 2.]

In 1928 the German physicists Walter Heitler and Fritz London published a paper that appeared to have beaten Linus Pauling to the punch in its application of quantum mechanics to the theory of chemical bonding. As with Pauling, the duo was interested in Erwin Schrödinger’s wave function, and in their paper they applied it to the simplest bond: that formed by two hydrogen atoms. In so doing, Heitler and London did indeed become the first scientists to publish an application of this type.

The German colleagues also incorporated Werner Heisenberg’s ideas on exchange energy. Heisenberg had theorized that the electrons of two given atoms would find themselves attracted to the positively charged nuclei of their atomic pairs. As such, a chemical bond, according to this theory, consisted simply of two electrons jumping back and forth between two atoms, belonging simultaneously to both and to neither.

Heitler and London extended this idea, proposing that chemical bonds sourced their lengths and strengths from the amount of repulsion extant between two positively charged nuclei. The balance between the electrons’ attraction to these nuclei, coupled with the quantifiable repulsion existing between the two nuclei, ultimately served to create the bond.


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Pauling on the precipice of greatness, 1928.

Invigorated by the promise of competition, Pauling set to work applying Heitler and London’s theory to more complex molecules. In part to motivate himself, but also to ensure that he received recognition for his research, Pauling announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he believed he could solve the tetrahedral binding of carbon using the ideas put forth by quantum mechanics.

This declaration piqued significant interest throughout the scientific community, striking a nerve for chemists and physicists alike, both groups of whom had been puzzling over this specific structure in different ways. On one hand, physicists believed that carbon should have a valence of two because, of its six electrons, four were located in two different subshells. Both sets of two would then be expected to pair off with each other, leaving only two electrons logically available for bonding. On the other hand, chemists found in the laboratory that carbon typically offered four electrons for bonding in nature. In essence, both theory and experiment indicated that neither party was completely right, but so too could neither point of view be completely wrong. Pauling believed that quantum mechanics could illuminate the paradox.

In addition to his theoretical study, Pauling’s extensive graduate training in x-ray crystallography strengthened both his interest in and his flair for atomic structure. By 1928, after a busy year of research, he had established five principles for determining the structure of complex covalent and ionic crystals, later dubbed “Pauling’s Rules.” He used these rules to predict models for particular molecular structures, and then worked backward from the theoretical model to develop a more concrete picture based on x-ray data. When a colleague remarked that this technique resembled the Greek stochastic method – an approach based largely on applied guess work – Pauling offered a correction, stating that

Agreement on a limited number of points cannot be accepted as verification of the hypothesis. In order for the stochastic method to be significant, the principles used in formulating the hypothesis must be restrictive enough to make the hypothesis itself essentially unique.

In other words, Pauling was relying on his knowledge of chemical principles to develop meticulous and educated hypotheses that he could go back and prove. And as he would hasten to add, he placed very little stock in luck or guesswork.


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As work moved forward, Pauling added his rules to three others that had been established by G.N. Lewis – and then expanded and formalized by Heitler and London – concerning the electron pair bond. These rules set parameters for the circumstances in which an electron would be theoretically available to form a chemical bond.

Though equipped with a solid toolkit of his and others’ making, it ultimately took Pauling almost three years to solve the carbon tetrahedron, with his big breakthrough coming in December of 1930. Inspired by the work of MIT physicist John C. Slater, Pauling found a way to reduce the complexity of the radial wave function, a component of bond orbital theory the application of which had been giving him some trouble. With this solution in hand, the math required for solving further steps of the carbon puzzle became significantly more manageable.

Pauling’s subsequent equations led him to develop a model for the structure that consisted of four equal orbitals oriented at the angles of a tetrahedron. Using these equations, Pauling further discerned that the strength of the bonds within the structure increased in accordance with greater degrees of orbital overlap between two atoms. The overlap, Pauling found, produced more exchange energy and this in turn created a stronger bond.

Pauling sent his paper to the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) in February 1931. In it, Pauling detailed three rules governing eigenfunctions that complemented G.N. Lewis’ rules about electron pairs. Pauling used this collection of guidelines to explain relative bond strength, finding that the strongest bonds occurred on the lowest energy level and where orbitals overlap. He also developed a complete theory of magnetic moments and ended the paper stressing the important role that quantum mechanics had played in his formulation of the rules and theories expressed in the work.

The paper, titled “The Nature of the Chemical Bond: Application of Results Obtained from the Quantum Mechanics and from a Theory of Paramagnetic Susceptibility to the Structure of Molecules,” was accepted and published in record time. The subject matter was so new and the ideas so fresh that Arthur Lamb, the editor of JACS at the time, had trouble finding a group qualified enough to review it. Even so, he scheduled the article for the April issue and in so doing published Pauling’s paper a mere six weeks after he had received it.


In 1926, whether he knew it or not, Linus Pauling embarked down a path toward the transformation of chemistry and the way that it would be studied for generations to come. The ideas that he began developing during this time gradually became the standard model for those studying chemistry while simultaneously launching Pauling to dizzying heights. His April 1931 paper, the first in a series of seven, also became the basis for his 1939 book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, which was almost immediately recognized as a classic of twentieth-century scientific writing.

Largely on the strength of the April JACS article, Pauling also received the 1931 Langmuir Prize from the American Chemical Society, and used the money that came with the prestigious award to further his research. Now that he was interested in molecular structure, he saw it’s promise everywhere within a rapidly expanding research program. In fact, the chemical bond work of the late 1920s and early 1930s laid the foundation for his subsequent program of hemoglobin research, which in turn led to his sickle cell anemia discovery almost twenty years later. In hindsight, it is easy to see how Pauling could have looked back on the achievements of early 1931 as being “the best work I’ve ever done.”

“The Best Work I’ve Ever Done”

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Linus Pauling, 1931.

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s first paper on the nature of the chemical bond, published in April 1931. This is part 1 of 2.]

“It seems to me that I have introduced into my work on the chemical bond a way of thinking that might not have been introduced by anyone else, at least not for quite a while. I suppose that the complex of ideas that I originated in the period of around 1928 to 1933 – and 1931 was probably my most important paper – has had the greatest impact on chemistry.”

-Linus Pauling, 1977

One of the major film documentaries chronicling Linus Pauling’s life was produced for the long-running NOVA series in 1977. By that point, when asked to look back over the decades of significant work that he had done, Pauling still singled out his insights into the chemical bond as being his most significant contribution to chemistry.

Pauling’s initial 1931 paper in particular marked the first time that he published his revolutionary point of view related to the chemical bond, and reflecting on that period Pauling went so far as to call the article “the best work I’ve ever done.” Indeed, the paper marked the first instance in which Pauling began to spell out the ways in which the burgeoning field of quantum mechanics might be applied to fundamental questions in chemistry. And though first in a lengthy series, Pauling placed major significance on this one paper because it profoundly changed the course of his career and set into motion a period of heavy influenced on the trajectory of an entire discipline.


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G.N. Lewis, ca. 1930.

While an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College, Pauling had been taught – and went on to teach his own students – the “hooks and eyes” theory of chemical bonding. In this model, each atom was presumed to have a certain number of hooks or eyes that determined how and to what other atoms it could connect. Though it prevailed at the time, the model was deemed to be outdated and insufficient by many of Pauling’s contemporaries, some of whom were concurrently searching for a more satisfactory replacement.

That said, “hooks and eyes” did serve as a useful precursor to the later concept of valence, because it correctly assumed that each atom possessed a concrete number of electrons to contribute to the formation of bonds with other atoms. The theory also suggested that there were rules governing how chemical bonds worked and how likely it was that two or more atoms might form a bond.

While Pauling was still a student in Oregon, he avidly read G.N. Lewis’ ideas about electron structure and also studied Irving Langmuir’s theory of valence, a tutelage that helped propel his own nascent interest in chemical bonding and atomic structure. Lewis proved to be particularly important. A chemist at the University of California, Berkeley and a future mentor of Pauling’s, Lewis proposed that eight electrons provided a maximally stable environment for a molecule, a tenet known today as the octet rule. Working from this idea, Lewis hypothesized that an atom containing, for example, seven electrons would bond more readily with an atom containing nine electrons, and that the bond that was formed consisted of the electron shared between the two atoms.

Lewis wasn’t the first to chase the nature of the chemical bond. Indeed, the problem had been under attack for a few decades. In 1911, Ernest Rutherford created the first modern atomic model, but ran into trouble because it wasn’t compatible with classical physics. Niels Bohr then updated this model. Less than twenty years after J. J. Thompson had discovered the electron, Bohr suggested that electrons orbited the nucleus in a predictable way, emitting quanta when they moved into lower orbits.

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Arnold Sommerfeld, 1928.

From there, others sought to fill gaps in Bohr’s model. In 1915, Arnold Sommerfeld, a physicist with whom Pauling eventually worked, helped to devise what came to be known as the Sommerfeld-Wilson quantization rules. These guidelines provided an explanation for angular momentum by describing electron orbits as ellipses rather than perfect circles.

At the same time, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Max Planck (among others) were rapidly embracing a new way to look at physics, expanding the theory and mathematics behind involved in this innovative approach. In 1925, a year before Pauling began an influential trip to Europe, Heisenberg had authored his “Quantum Theoretical Reinterpretation of Kinematic and Mechanical Relations,” which many point to as the true beginning of quantum mechanics. Schrödinger then completed his wave function in 1926. By contrast, the Lewis and Langmuir models were part of an old system that – as soon Pauling discovered – was in the process of being discarded.


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Linus Pauling at the Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, during his legendary Guggenheim trip to Europe. This photo was taken by Ava Helen in April 1926.

An admirer of Sommerfeld’s work, Pauling traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim fellowship to learn as much as he could about quantum mechanics, which at the time was referred to as “new physics.” He was especially keen to learn more about Schrödinger’s equation and to dig into the ways in which the wave function might be applied to a more sophisticated understanding of the chemical bond. Though impressed by Heisenberg, Pauling gravitated toward Schrödinger because he saw more potential for practical application of the wave function, as opposed to Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics. In a note penned during his travels, Pauling wrote specifically that

I think that it is very interesting that one can see the [psi] functions of Schrödinger’s wave mechanics by means of the X-ray study of crystals. This work should be continued experimentally. I believe that much information regarding the nature of the chemical bond will result from it.

These thoughts proved prophetic, as we will see in part 2 of this series.


Pauling returned to Pasadena in the fall of 1927, bursting with new ideas. While he was away, Caltech chemistry chief A.A. Noyes had sent word that a unique position had been created for his promising young faculty member, one that lined up nicely with Pauling’s new interests. Upon his re-arrival at Caltech, Pauling was to begin working under the title of Assistant Professor of Theoretical Chemistry and Mathematical Physics.

Although Noyes eventually dropped the physics course from the appointment, Pauling liked the idea of hybridizing his interests into one name. It was at that point that he began referring to himself as a quantum chemist.

Advocating for Polyspheron Theory Over Two Decades

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[Part 2 of 2]

In the mid-1960s, as he continued to develop his close-packed spheron theory of atomic nuclei, Linus Pauling sought to use the techniques of creative visualization that had served him so well in his past theoretical work. The situation was trickier this time however, as the discipline of nuclear physics had not yet put forth a single agreed-upon understanding of molecular structure on which a visual model might be built. Rather, as Pauling put it:

There are now two ways of considering the structure of a molecule. One of these ways is by application of a highly refined set of ideas about chemical bonds that was largely developed during the period from 1860 to 1900, and was then significantly extended between 1925 and 1935 through consideration of the empirical information about molecular structure in light of basic principles that were introduced by quantum mechanics.

The second way of considering the structure of a molecule is by solving the wave equation for the molecule, describing the state of the various electrons interacting with one another and with the nuclei.

Both methods had been used since quantum mechanics entered the mainstream in the 1920s and began being applied to topics in chemistry. But according to Pauling, very little effort had been made to develop an empirical theory of the structure of atomic nuclei that corresponded nicely with contemporary ideas on chemical structure. The wave equation approach was further complicated by the fact that, by the mid-1960s, reliable quantum mechanical calculations could be carried out for only a small number of molecules.

In Pauling’s estimation, the most useful attempt to date to develop a workable theory was folded into a discussion that conceptualized light nuclei as aggregates of alpha particles – particles that Pauling renamed “helions” and made a centerpiece of his theory. To address the perceived need to move forward with this mode of thinking, Pauling developed his own conceptual framework and promoted it throughout the 1960s.


1966s.2

Notes from Pauling’s second Robbins Lecture, February 25, 1966

In 1966 Pauling used his platform as Pomona College’s first Robbins Lecturer to begin spreading a more popular word of this theory — he gave five lectures on the subject in February and March of that year. In 1967 he delivered three more talks on the theory, this time at Princeton University under the auspices of the Plaut Lectureship, an honorific which Pauling was again the first person to occupy. Finally, in 1971, he offered a free public lecture at the University of Colorado, Boulder, promoting his theory as the E.U. Condon Chemical-Physics Lecturer.

Throughout all of this public outreach, Pauling continued to draw up new manuscripts for publication on the topic. In these, he began considering how nuclear wave functions and magnetic-moment values could all be accounted for using polyspheron theory. He also continued to emphasize the compatibility of his ideas with the shell and cluster theories that had gained traction within the discipline.


1976a.8

A figure included with Pauling’s 1976 manuscript submission to Physical Review

Pauling’s fight to push polyspheron theory into the physics mainstream continued in 1976, by which time the term “helion” was generally being used by nuclear physicists to refer to a Helium-3 nucleus. This common understanding proved disadvantageous to Pauling, as he had defined the term as referring instead to alpha particles (although, interestingly, Pauling had earlier pointed out that “his” helions were notably present in Helium-3).

But there was also good news for Pauling: by now, scientists using electron scattering techniques to investigate the electromagnetic properties of atomic nuclei with prolate deformation were publishing data that seemed to support his point of view. In particular, these experiments had derived information about the shapes of the deformed nuclei that showed what appeared to be the formation of spherons out of the objects defined by polyspheron theory as “helions” and “tritons.”

Pauling almost immediately pounced on this encouraging data, writing a paper initially titled “Comment on the Shapes of Deformed Nuclei,” and then later more forcefully retitled as “The Predication of the Shapes of Deformed Nuclei by the Polyspheron Theory.” He submitted his manuscript to Physical Review in Spring 1976, arguing that reports from current nuclear physicists had confirmed many of his model’s assumptions and that, accordingly, polyspheron theory merited wider acceptance within the field.

The referee overseeing Pauling’s manuscript asked that he make several revisions prior to publication. One major request was that Pauling reshape some of the terminology that was so specific to his theory, due to its confusing nature with respect to broader accepted nomenclature. The journal also asked that Pauling support his claims with clearer and more substantial calculations.

Pauling responded that the journal’s editors had apparently misunderstood the purpose and the importance of his work, and then appended a more substantive introduction to the beginning of the paper to clarify some of the specifics that had been requested of him. When the journal later asked Pauling to remove the extended introduction he refused and his submission was withdrawn. In 1982, some six years later, a paper with the same title finally made it into print by way of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a journal that had historically published most submissions authored by distinguished Academy members, among whom Pauling could certainly count himself.

In 1987 Pauling again attempted to advocate on behalf of his theory, writing a new paper titled “Properties of the High-Spin Superprolate Structure of 15266Dy86 are Explained by the Polyspheron Theory.” This paper once more claimed that his now thirty-year-old theory was being steadily confirmed by contemporary laboratory research.

As in 1976, the 1987 manuscript was also rejected, this time by Physical Review and by Nature alike. Seven years later, right around Pauling’s ninety-third birthday, an article with a far less forthright title did appear, once again in PNAS: “Analysis of a Hyperdeformed Band of 152 66 Dy86 on the Basis of a Structure with Two Revolving Clusters, Each with a Previously Unrecognized Two-Tiered Structure.”


Despite his periodic appeals to the practicality of his theory over the course of several decades, and disregarding his insistence that the theory had been vindicated by its prediction of novel discoveries, Linus Pauling’s ideas on polyspherons were never generally accepted by his peers in either physics or chemistry.

Today the utility of Pauling’s model of the atomic nucleus remains in doubt. What does seem to be clear is that he did not succeed in grasping one of the scientific world’s most elusive holy grails: a unified theory of quantum physics and chemistry.

Linus Pauling’s Polyspheron Theory

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[Part 1 of 2]

“I consider the polyspheron theory to be a simple statement about the insight into nuclear structure that is provided by the experimental data and to some extent by the quantum mechanical calculations.” 

– Linus Pauling, 1976

In the early twentieth century, when physicists were gaining knowledge of the properties of atomic nuclei in strides, the still young field of quantum mechanical theory was being used to interpret experimental data. At the same time, chemists were beginning to explore the implications of quantum theory as it pertained to molecular structure, a trend that culminated in Linus Pauling’s groundbreaking book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, published in 1939.

In the following forty years however, no single theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus emerged that could conceptually account for all the results that chemists and physicists were observing. Nor was there a satisfactory theory that could link the behavior of the most infinitesimal and internal parts of the atom with the much larger scale of molecular behavior and chemical reactions. In other words, there was not yet a single accepted unified theory of quantum physics and chemistry. The pursuit of just such a theory stood as a holy grail of sorts, occupying the hopes, dreams and energy of many a twentieth century scientist.

For parts of five decades, Linus Pauling strove to develop just such a theory, one that could account for the basic structural tendencies and behaviors of the atomic nucleus and prove useful not only for atomic physicists but also for chemists. His efforts resulted in what he called “close-packed spheron theory,” simplified later as “polyspheron theory.”


Though he had begun work on the topic much earlier, Pauling first revealed his theory to the world on October 11, 1965 at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, held at the University of Washington in Seattle. His talk that day was titled “The Close-Packed-Spheron Theory of the Structure of Nuclei and the Mechanism of Nuclear Fission,” and its contents mirrored a pair of similarly titled papers that he published that same year: “The Close-Packed-Spheron Theory and Nuclear Fission,” published in Science, and “The Close-Packed-Spheron Model of Atomic Nuclei and Its Relation to the Shell Model,” which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In each of these works, Pauling advanced a theoretical framework that incorporated features of three older theories – the cluster, shell and liquid-drop theories – while also accounting for several observed phenomena of atomic nuclei that were difficult to explain at the time, such as asymmetric nuclear fission. Importantly, the close-packed spheron model of the nucleus differed from past models by declaring “spherons” as its units, rather than nucleons. Pauling described his rationale for this choice as having been an outgrowth of his thinking about nuclear fission.

Twenty five years ago a phenomenon of tremendous importance was discovered, nuclear fission. In the uranium nucleus and other heavy nuclei, fissioning produces a lighter and a heavier nucleus, with mass ratio about 2/3, several hundred times as often as two nuclei with equal mass are produced.

Why is fission asymmetric in this way? Here is a simple reason why this might be: I assume that in nuclei the nucleons may, as a first approximation, be described as occupying localized 1s orbitals to form small clusters. These small clusters, called spherons, are usually helions, tritons, and dineutrons: in nuclei containing an odd number of neutrons, a (Helium-3) cluster or a deuteron may serve as a spheron.

Pauling’s basic assumption here was that, in atomic nuclei, the nucleons were in large part aggregated into clusters that are arranged as closely as allowed by the laws of physics. Nuclei with more neutrons than protons were called tritons or dineutrons by Pauling. Likewise, the clusters of neutrons and protons occupying localized 1s orbitals were called spherons.

The most important spherons in Pauling’s conception were aggregates of two neutrons and two protons, which he called helions, though they were already known to physicists as alpha particles. The localized 1s orbitals that these spherons occupied could also be described mathematically as hybrids of the central-field orbitals that are outlined in shell theory. This process of hybridization of orbitals provided a formal basis for relating the cluster model – of which Pauling’s theory was an extreme version – and the shell model.

Pauling also put forth the idea that the spherons in a nucleus were arranged in a series of concentric layers. For a large nucleus, the outer part of the cavity inside the surface layer was occupied by spherons that were in contact with the inner side of the surface layer. These spherons constituted a layer of their own, within which Pauling believed there might reside yet another layer of spherons. To avoid confusion with the “shells” of the shell model, Pauling referred to his spheron layers as follows: “the mantle” for the surface layer, and the “outer core” and “inner core” for the two additional constituents of a three-layer nucleus.

In an effort to assure the scientific rank and file that he was not seeking to upend their entire understanding of nuclear physics, Pauling promised that the quantum mechanical calculations enabled by his polyspheron theory were essentially the same as those that had been made using various other models in the past.

Perhaps unwittingly, this assurance left many colleagues within the field wondering why Pauling was bothering to develop this theory at all. For many physicists, Pauling’s work seemed redundant, or perhaps merely an attempt to change the names of existing terms to new ones that fit more elegantly into Pauling’s conceptual framework of atomic structure.

Pauling countered this skepticism by suggesting that both qualitative and rough quantitative conclusions could be drawn from his model without the aid of extensive calculations. If these conclusions agreed with the experimental evidence, Pauling argued, then detailed calculations of this sort might not always be required in the future, pushing scientists just that little bit closer to the discovery of their holy grail.