Remembering Richard Marsh


Richard Marsh, 1960. Credit: Caltech Archives.

At the beginning of this year, on Tuesday, January 3rd, the highly accomplished crystallographer Richard E. Marsh passed away at the age of 94. During his impressive sixty-six-year career at Caltech, Marsh was influenced greatly by Linus Pauling’s work in crystallography, and eventually collaborated with him throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Colleagues and admirers alike knew Marsh for his rigorous standards in investigating atomic structure, a discipline that resulted in his determination of over one-hundred crystal structures throughout his career and the improvement of at least that many more.

In a Caltech tenure that spanned more than six decades, Marsh also inspired generations of graduates and undergrads alike, teaching valuable techniques in crystallography and instilling in his students the rigor of his own research practice. His course “Methods of Structural Determination” was among the most popular graduate offerings in the Institute’s Chemistry division for a great many years. He leaves behind an impressive legacy for the crystallographers of today.

Marsh, who went by Dick, was born in 1922 in Jackson, Michigan. By the time that he arrived at Caltech as an undergraduate in 1939, Pauling had already helped to established the Institute as among the premiere destinations for budding young crystallographers around the world. In particular, Pauling’s newly published Nature of the Chemical Bond had transformed crystallography from arcane to fundamental.

Though Pauling was certainly well known on campus when Marsh was an undergraduate, it would be another eleven years before Pauling and Marsh formally crossed paths. As a student, Marsh had identified an interest in chemistry, but hadn’t narrowed to a particular focus. He commented later that a technical drawing course at Caltech served as a precursor to his interest in crystallography. He graduated with his BS in applied chemistry in the midst of World War II (1943) and, upon graduation, enlisted in the US Navy, spending the next two years degaussing ships in New Orleans. This is where he met his wife Helena Laterriere, to whom he remained married for nearly seventy years.

Following his discharge, Marsh enrolled in graduate school at Tulane University so that he might remain in close proximity to his fiancée. Most of the courses that he needed were already full at the time of his enrollment, so Marsh signed up for an X-ray crystallography class at the nearby Sophie Newcomb College for women. It was there that he met the teacher who changed his life and cemented his interest in crystallography.

That teacher, Rose Mooney, had previously attempted to enroll at Caltech for graduate studies only to be turned away when she arrived in Pasadena and the administration realized that she was a female. Pauling himself stepped in at this point, giving her a temporary position in his laboratory until she was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Chicago. Her lab at Sophie Newcomb College was quite modest, containing only a Laue film holder and one x-ray tube, but for Marsh it was enough. Inspired, his course was set from then on, though he’d have to travel across the country to continue it.

After marrying Helena on August 11, 1947, Marsh enrolled at UCLA. He later called the 2,000-mile move across the southern United States the beginning of their honeymoon, joking that it was a wedding present to his new bride. At UCLA, Marsh studied crystallography under Jim McCullough and earned his Ph.D. in 1950. Caltech subsequently offered him a post-doctoral research appointment, and he remained at the Institute for his entire career, always in a non-tenured position until his retirement in 1990, when he named an emeritus professor.

In the years immediately following World War II, Caltech was still very much the place to be for crystallographers. Thanks largely to Pauling, who returned to structural chemistry after his own war projects had wrapped up, scientists from all over the world travelled to Pasadena to conduct research and solve structures.

Marsh finally became associated with Pauling in 1950, when he arrived at the Institute as a post-doc. He published his first paper with Pauling, “The Structure of Chlorine Hydrate,” in 1952. A year later, the duo published “The crystal structure of β selenium,” which marked the first time that Marsh issued a correction of someone else’s work. Indeed, over the course of his career, Marsh became increasingly focused on policing the field for errors, always striving for maximum accuracy and precision. Pauling engaged in this work himself from time to time, although the various demands on his attention kept him too busy to make a full-time habit out of it.


Marsh at the famous Caltech Proteins Conference in 1953. To his right is Francis Crick.

Pauling and Marsh continued to collaborate on a number of other publications related to atomic structure between 1952 and 1955, at which point their interests began to diverge. Nonetheless, the two retained a degree of professional closeness throughout the following decades, often writing to compliment one another on various accomplishments, solicit advice, or suggest future projects. In one instance, Pauling provided the kernel of an idea that resulted in Marsh’s 1982 paper on N, N-Dimethylglycine hydrochloride. Likewise, Marsh helped pave the way for Pauling to publish one of his own articles in Acta Crystallography, where Marsh served as an editor for seven years.

In 1975, presented with the problem of solving of a compound that generates hydrazine from molecular nitrogen, Marsh devised and shared a method for determining the structure. This solution influenced the direction of study into hydrazine formation, creating the opportunity for further study. And although Marsh continued to solve structural problems in the years that followed, he also devoted countless hours – over half his career – to the pursuit and correction of published errors, usually pertaining to inaccurate space groups in important crystal structures. Pauling later described Marsh as the “conscience of crystallography.”

With time, he gained such a reputation that his colleagues in the field were perpetually anxious that they would be “Marshed,” or taken to task, for their errors. Marsh held his colleagues accountable to their calculations and believed firmly in checking a computer’s work, rather than the other way around. He is remembered today as having been responsible for many refinements in crystallographic discipline and for the high standards that make future refinements possible.


Marsh in 2012. Photo by Rafn Stefansson.

In terms of organizational involvement, Marsh joined the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) shortly after starting at Caltech. Over the duration of his career, he became increasingly active in the group, and ultimately served as its president in 1993. He was also co-editor of Acta Crystallography from 1964-1971.

Marsh’s classroom lectures and his relationships with students were at least as influential as were his publications in crystallography. One colleague, B.C. Wang, recalled that Marsh summoned crystallographers of all stature – be they students, professors, or visiting scientists – to a group coffee at 10:30am every day, to encourage discussion and advancement within the field. Students also remembered him as critical but encouraging, his commitment to student success serving as an inspiration for their own hard work.


Marsh and Pauling in 1986. Credit: Caltech Archives.

When queried by CRC Press in the early 1990s for his input on future publications, Pauling suggested that the press solicit a monograph from Marsh on the crystal structures that he had corrected thus far, arguing that a volume of this sort might help future crystallographers to avoid these errors. Pauling then wrote to Marsh, inquiring about the total number of crystal structures that Marsh had indeed corrected. Pauling had guessed that Marsh had published fixes for 25 to 30 structures and was surprised to learn that the actual number was between 110 and 120.

Although Marsh didn’t publish this proposed monograph, Pauling’s idea evidently inspired him. In 1995, he authored a substantial article on the subject, titled “Some thoughts on choosing the correct space group.” In the piece, Marsh discussed common types of errors as well as preferable techniques and methodology, including a few tables that documented space group revisions over time.

While at Caltech, Marsh worked closely with Verner Schomaker, another of Pauling’s graduate students. In 1991, the two teamed up to put together a festschrift honoring Pauling’s early work on crystallography. Pauling, a man who, by then, had received basically every award that a scientist can get, was immensely pleased and grateful for this honor.

In 2003, Marsh received the inaugural Kenneth Trueblood Award from the American Crystallographic Association for his outstanding achievements in chemical crystallography. Few other awards could be more fitting for a crystallographer of Marsh’s caliber and commitment. In announcing the prize, the chair of the selection committee identified Marsh as a “rare individual among crystallographers, an outstanding teacher and researcher who has greatly influenced so many students and faculty.” He will be remembered and missed for this indefatigable integrity, dedication, and mentorship.

Ahmed Zewail, 1946-2016


Earlier this month, on Tuesday, August 2, Ahmed H. Zewail, a world renowned Nobel laureate chemist and Caltech’s Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics, died at 70 years of age. As a major figure in the field of chemistry and a personal friend to Linus Pauling, Zewail’s passing is honored and mourned here at Oregon State University.

Zewail was born and raised in Egypt, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Alexandria University before going on to attain his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his doctorate in 1974, Zewail joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology, where he remained for the next forty years.

During his tenure at Caltech, Zewail’s team became the first to directly observe the breaking and formation of atomic bonds, also known as transition states. This was initially accomplished in 1987, but the team’s technique had a long way to go before it could be considered revolutionary, to say nothing of routine. Nonetheless, Caltech saw the potential for greatness in Zewail’s work and, in 1990, it named him the first Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics, a newly endowed chair. Upon receiving this accolade, Zewail wrote to Pauling immediately, confiding, “You are one of my personal heroes in science, and I am honored to be holding your chair.” Zewail remained in this position until his passing, frequently stating that it was an honor just to be compared to Linus Pauling, and that he hoped to do justice to that comparison. Important above all else, however, was that Linus Pauling considered him a friend.


Zewail and Pauling at the 90th birthday event, Caltech, February 1991.

Zewail played a major role in revitalizing the relationship between Caltech and Pauling during the 1980s and early 1990s. Pauling had left the Institute in 1963 amidst increasingly strained circumstances surrounding his work for peace and his stance against nuclear testing. From 1986 through 1993, Zewail was in regular contact with Pauling, helping to arrange his visits to the Caltech campus for a variety of lectures dedicated to Pauling’s work and time there. In 1986, Caltech’s eighty-fifth birthday “Salute to Linus Pauling” afforded Zewail the opportunity to present Pauling with a portrait depicting his face on the body of a Pharaoh, captioned “King of Kings of Chemistry.”


“King of Kings in Chemistry”

Later events in which Zewail was involved included Caltech’s first Linus Pauling Lecture in 1989, a second Linus Pauling lecture in 1991, and an additional 1991 symposium on the chemical bond that was held to mark Pauling’s 90th birthday. A year later, Zewail produced an edited volume of the papers presented at this conference, The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics, a work which was the source of much pleasure for Pauling in his final years.

Over time, the two became close friends. Christmas cards were routinely exchanged and Zewail even sent Pauling an announcement on the occasion of the birth of his son. In 1992, Zewail likewise provided Pauling with a manuscript documenting his team’s first successful recording of ultrafast electron diffraction from molecules, a breakthrough that enabled increasingly accurate “pictures” of transition states that had never before been observed by chemists. Pauling responded with praise: this was “a fine piece of work” that would make possible the exploration of previously inaccessible frontiers in the fields of chemistry, physics, and biology.

Zewail won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999. In continuing to seek out methods to observe transition states, he had pioneered a technique that used laser pulses akin to strobe lights to record the colors of light emitted and absorbed by molecules. This technique was termed “femtosecond spectroscopy.” While chemistry had hitherto inferred specifics of reactions based on the material input and output of a given chemical reaction, Zewail’s work now enabled scientists to see specific changes at the molecular level for the first time.


Crellin and Linus Pauling with Lynne Martinez and Ahmed Zewail, 1991.

To fully appreciate Zewail’s contributions, one must understand that the breaking and shifting of chemical bonds that he worked to observe typically occur in a space of 10-100 femtoseconds, each femtosecond being a millionth of a billionth of a second. Zewail explained the scale of these observations as follows:

Here is the journey in time… 12 or 15 billion years of the Big Bang, and then you come down to our lifespan, which is about 100 years or so – your heart beats in one second. But to go from here [present day] to there [Big Bang] is about 1015, and I am going to take you from the heart into a molecule inside the heart, or eye specifically, and you have to decrease by 15 orders of magnitude to see the beats of this molecule, as you see the beats of your heart. The timescale is fast… if you go from this age of the universe, and you count back from the age of the Earth to the human lifespan to your heart (1 second), and then you go to the microscopic world (sub-second), into how molecules rotate, vibrate, and how the electrons move… In this whole microscopic world here, we reach 10-15 or so seconds, where on the opposite end you reach 1015.

This is the end of time resolution for chemistry and biology, because if you look here, even molecules that are linking undergo collisions on a time scale of 10-14 seconds. A molecule can break a bond and make a bond on this time scale as well. The eye has a molecule called rhodopsin which divides and allows you to see, and that happens in 200 femtoseconds. The way we get photosynthesis to work, and the electron to transfer inside the green plant, is on the order of femtoseconds. So this is the fundamental time scale, and if we were to understand the dynamics of the chemical bond we must understand this time scale.

In other words, the timespan of one heartbeat is to the age of the universe as the timespan of one molecular bond breaking is to the length of an elderly human’s lifespan; the time required by the event is so infinitesimal as to be practically nonexistent. Yet Zewail found that it was at this scale – the “one heartbeat” of a single bond breaking or forming – upon which our entire reality is formed from its molecular foundations up. Zewail showed that events occurring in femtoseconds are the basis for all the occurrences that we take for granted in everyday life.

The ability to observe these events created a new field of study called femtochemistry. And while femtoscopic experiments provide a method for researchers to determine the amounts of energy that hold together different types of chemical bonds, their impact is not limited to chemistry alone. Since the time of Zewail’s breakthroughs in the 1980s and 1990s, many practical applications have emerged from femtoscopic research, including a better understanding of the mechanics of human vision and of the properties of photosynthesis in plants.  Today, most femtosecond lasers are sold not to chemists or physicists, but to hospitals, because of their ability to image very fine tumors. Likewise, in the technology sector, femtosecond pulses can be used to lift material on the micron scale without dissipating heat into a microchip.


In more recent years, Zewail was named Director of the National Science Foundation’s Laboratory for Molecular Sciences, and was nominated by President Barack Obama as both the first United States Science Envoy to the Middle East as well as a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In February, Caltech held a symposium titled “Science and Society” to celebrate Zewail’s 70th birthday. At the event, the honoree spoke of his efforts to expand scientific research initiatives in his native country and stressed the importance of holding to a scientific vision. Advocating as he was for education and peace across international borders, Zewail’s message was, without doubt, one that would have made Linus Pauling proud.

On February 28, 2001, on what would have been Linus Pauling’s one-hundredth birthday, Zewail delivered the keynote address at the Linus Pauling Centenary Celebration, a day-long symposium organized and hosted by Oregon State University. In his talk, “Timing in the Invisible,” Zewail reflected on the rapid changes that had arisen in the field of chemistry as a result of breakthroughs in femtoscience. In 1950, when asked what he thought chemists would be studying fifty years on, Pauling responded: “We may hope that the chemists of the year 2000 will have obtained such penetrating knowledge of the forces between atoms and molecules that he will be able to predict the rate of any chemical reaction.” Zewail’s work, in effect, accomplished this ambition. It has given chemists insight into the dynamics of chemical bonding, and thus greater predictive knowledge of the forces and rates of these dynamic changes.

Dr. Ahmed Zewail, who held the Linus Pauling chair at the California Institute of Technology for so long, was indeed the right scientist to carry Pauling’s legacy forward. Now, as that chair sits empty, Zewail is remembered and missed for all that he accomplished as a scientist, as an advocate for social change, and as a friend.

A View of Pauling’s Models

In 2010, Oren Eckhaus, a photographer based in New York City, visited our facility to photograph several of the molecular models that remain extant in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. He did so in support of Jane Nisselson’s documentary-in-progress, “Unseen Beauty: The Molecule Imagined,” which she was researching with support from the OSU Libraries Resident Scholar Program.

Now Eckhaus is preparing several of his photographs for display in an upcoming art exhibition, and he was kind enough to share a handful of the images with us. He also provided a short artist’s statement:

The idea of photographing the molecular models came as an add-on visual assistant to a movie (that is still in the making) who’s main subject is to show the representation of pure scientific ideas as real tangible forms.

In my profession, along with being a fine art photographer, I also document objects of art for museums and art collectors. Upon seeing the models, I was struck by their beauty. They are important both as art pieces and early science tools.

Therefore, the approach of photographing the pieces was a mix of an artistic and documentary point of view, showing the original scientific intent, along with their artistic beauty.

A book of 32 molecule images is in the making.

Click on any image to open the gallery and to learn more about the molecular models highlighted within.


Pauling’s Nobel Nominators: Chemistry, 1949-1954; Medicine,1953


Linus Pauling shaking hands with King Gustav at the 1954 Nobel Prize Ceremony. Stockholm, Sweden. Photo Credit: Text & Bilder

[Part 5 of 6]

Today’s post focuses on those individuals who nominated Linus Pauling for the Nobel Chemistry Prize during the span of years between 1949 and his Chemistry Nobel laureate year of 1954.  We also examine Pauling’s nomination for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953.  The post relies on data released online by the Nobel Foundation.



  • Jacques Hadamard: French mathematician and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who made major contributions in number theory, complex function theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations.  Having lost his two older sons in World War I and another during World War II, he became active in international peace movements.
  • George Kistiakowsky: Ukrainian-American physical chemistry professor and chairholder at an invited university, Harvard.  In October 1943, he was brought into the Manhattan Project as a consultant.  He was soon placed in charge of X Division, which was responsible for the development of the explosive lenses necessary for an implosion-type nuclear weapon. He later served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Science Advisor.  He severed his connections with the government in protest against the war in Vietnam, and became active in an anti-war organization, the Council for a Livable World, becoming its chairman in 1977.  At Harvard, his research interests were in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics.
    • The nomination was made jointly with E.B Wilson and R.B. Woodward.
  • Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr.: American chemist who received his doctorate under the Pauling’s supervision.  Wilson made major contributions to the field of molecular spectroscopy and developed the theory of how rotational spectra are influenced by centrifugal distortion during rotation.  He pioneered the use of group theory for the analysis and simplification of normal mode analysis, particularly for high symmetry molecules, such as benzene.  Following the Second World War, Wilson conducted important work on the application of microwave spectroscopy to the determination of molecular structure.
  • Robert Burns Woodward (see 1948 Zechmeister nomination in previous post)
  • Charles Coryell: American chemist and co-discoverer of the element promethium.  Coryell earned a Ph.D. at California Institute of Technology in 1935 as the student of Arthur A. Noyes.  During the late 1930s, he engaged in research on the structure of hemoglobin in association with Linus Pauling and together they published several journal articles.  When he nominated Pauling he was a chairholder at MIT, which was invited to submit nominations.



  • Maurice Auméras: French chemist who, in 1950, was a chairholder at an invited university in Paris.
  • Wilhelm Gerhard Burgers: Chemist who studied the structure of matter and its physical properties. He was a chairholder at an invited university in the Netherlands at Delft.
  • Jean Doeuvre: French organic chemist who was a chairholder at an invited university in Lyon, France.
  • Paul-Antoine Giguère: Canadian chemist and chairholder at the invited Université Laval, located in Quebec.  He worked at Caltech with Pauling in the 1930s.
  • Stig Claesson: Professor of chemistry at a Nordic university listed in the special regulations of 1900, the University of Uppsala, Sweden.
    • Nominated with Robert Sanderson Mulliken: American physicist and chemist who was primarily responsible for the early development of molecular orbital theory, or the elaboration of the molecular orbital method of computing the structure of molecules. In 1934 he derived a new scale for measuring the electronegativity of elements. Mulliken’s scale does not entirely correlate with that developed by Linus Pauling, but is generally in close correspondence.  He was a professor at the University of Chicago and received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1966.



  • Hans Erwin Deuel: Swiss agricultural chemist at Technische Hochschule in Zurich who studied colloidal chemistry, focusing on plant gums and pectins in particular.
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Bernardo Houssay: Argentine physiologist and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences who worked in the field of physiology, researching the nervous, digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems.  In the 1930s, Houssay demonstrated the diabetogenic effect on anterior hypophysis extracts and the decrease in diabetes severity with anterior hypophysectomy. These discoveries stimulated the study of hormonal feedback control mechanisms which are central to multiple aspects of modern endocrinology.  In 1947 he received one half of a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the role played by pituitary hormones in regulating the amount of glucose in animals.  The other half of the prize went to Carl Ferdinand Cori and Gerty Cori, who won for their discoveries regarding the role of glucose in carbohydrate metabolism.  Houssay was the first Argentine and Latin American Nobel laureate in the sciences.
  • Charles P. Smyth (see 1946 nomination in previous post)



  • Einar Hille: American mathematician who taught at Yale University.  He was a member of both the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Swedish Royal Academy of Science.
  • Arne Tiselius (see 1948 Riegel nomination in previous post)



  • Edward Doisy: American biochemist and professor at St. Louis University.  Doisy received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1943 with Henrik Dam for their discovery of vitamin K (K from “Koagulations” which is German for “vitamin”) and its chemical structure.  Doisy and Dam’s work stimulated research in endocrinology and opened up a new subfield of organic chemistry focusing on steroid compounds.
  • Paul-Antoine Giguère (see above)
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Felix Haurowitz: Czech-American biochemist and doctor who taught chemistry at Indiana University.  He made key discoveries regarding hemoglobin and immunochemistry, including research in critical respiratory protein and spectroscopy of horse hemoglobin.
  • Julian M. Sturtevant: Biochemist at Yale University and a pioneer in collecting thermodynamic and kinetic data for important biochemical reactions.  He obtained a value for the enthalpy change in DNA structural transitions, which is central to the physical theories surrounding DNA structure and function.  Sturtevant also developed refined calorimetric instruments that allowed for accurate heat measurements to be made of protein structural changes, which is vital to understanding protein chemistry.  Using these instruments he conducted detailed studies measuring energy transfers during cellular metabolism and the mechanism of action of the various serine enzymes.
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi (see 1941 nomination in previous post)
  • Reine Leimu: A chemist based in Turku, Finland.
  • Karl Freudenberg: German chemist who did early seminal work on the absolute configurations of carbohydrates, terpenes, and steroids, and on the structure of cellulose and other polysaccharides. He also researched the nature, structure, and biosynthesis of lignin.  The Research Institute for the Chemistry of Wood and Polysaccharides was developed at the University of Heidelberg for him.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling dancing at the 1954 Nobel Ball. Photo Credit: Pressens Bild, Stockholm.


  • Edward Doisy (see above)
  • Jacques Hadamard (see above)
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi (see above)
  • Irène Joliot-Curie: Working in Paris either alone or in collaboration with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, at the Institut du Radium, Joliot-Curie conducted important work on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics.  She shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband, a recognition of their work synthesizing new radioactive elements.  She was also Commissioner for Atomic Energy in France and oversaw construction of first French cyclotron.  Throughout her career she took an interest in the social and intellectual advancement of women.
  • Frédéric Joliot-Curie: Physicist working at the Institut du Radium in Paris.  Collaborating with his wife, Irène, Joliot-Curie discovered that radioactive elements decompose spontaneously, usually with a long period, by emitting positive or negative particles.
  • Rolf Helmer Roschier: Finnish chemist and professor of wood chemistry at the Helsinki University of Technology.  He studied terpenes, the manufacturing of wood pulp, and paper and wood saccharification.
  • Terje Enkvist: Finnish chemist at the University of Helsinki.  He worked in the field of wood chemistry.
  • Niilo Johannes Toivonen: Finnish chemist and professor at the University of Helsinki.  He also worked with pharmaceutical companies and on the editorial board for a Finnish encyclopedia.
  • Jean-Francois Wyart: Based in Paris when he nominated Pauling for the Nobel Prize, he worked in crystal structures and spectrochemistry.
  • Arne Tiselius (see 1948 Riegel nomination in previous post)
  • Theodor Svedberg: A Swedish chemist at Uppsala University, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1926 “for his work on disperse systems.”  Svedberg’s research focused primarily on colloids and macromolecular compounds.  His work with colloids supported the theories of Brownian motion put forward by Albert Einstein and the Polish geophysicist Marian Smoluchowski, and therein contributed additional proof to the existence of molecules.  To support his experimentation, Svedberg developed the technique of analytical ultracentrifugation, and demonstrated its utility in distinguishing pure proteins from one another.  Svedberg also studied the physical properties of colloids, such as their diffusion, light absorption, and sedimentation, from which it could be concluded that the gas laws could be applied to disperse systems.
  • Freudenberg (see above)
    • Nominated with Hans Lebrecht Meerwein: German organic chemist who discovered cationic rearrangement reactions, carbenes, and an important alkylating reagent.  He is known primarily for his work on the reduction of aldehydes and ketones with aluminum alcoholates.   Through his research he clarified the mechanism of many organic reactions.
  • Harlow Shapley:  American astronomer and professor at Harvard.  He used RR Lyrae stars to correctly estimate the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and the sun’s position within it, and found that galaxies tend to occur in clusters, which he called metagalaxies.  In 1953 he proposed his “liquid water belt” theory, now known as the concept of a habitable zone.  He believed that national or international affairs should be given higher priority than research and writing.
    • Nominated with Robert Burns Woodward (see 1948 Zechmeister nomination in previous post)
    • Shapley’s first choice was Pauling and his second choice was Woodward.


Physiology or Medicine


  • John Tileston Edsall: Early protein scientist and professor of biochemistry at Harvard who contributed significantly to the understanding of the hydrophobic interaction. He was active in preserving the history of protein science, and devoted to the study of proteins and their constituent amino acids.  His early work contributed to establishing proteins as unique, large structured molecules that deserved the same intense study as had become commonplace for the chemistry of small molecules.
    • Nominated with Frederick Sanger: British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958 “for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin.”  He also received one quarter of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980, split with Paul Berg – who received one half of the Prize “for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant-DNA” – and with Walter Gilbert who received one quarter of the Prize with Sanger “for their contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids.”
    • Nominated with Robert Brainard Corey:  American biochemist, mostly known for his role in the discovery of the α-helix and the β-sheet with Linus Pauling.  Their discoveries were remarkably correct, and their bond lengths remained the most accurate for the next forty years.  The α-helix and β-sheet are two structures that are now known to form the backbones of many proteins.  While it was Pauling who had the intuition and imagination that produced these concepts, it was Corey who was primarily responsible for proving them correct by carrying out the necessary diffraction experiments.  Together, Pauling and Corey authored more than 30 papers.

Pauling’s Nobel Nominators: Chemistry, 1940-1948


The Nobel Ceremony, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1954. Pauling stands at right. Image by Hans Malmberg.

[Part 4 of 6]

Linus Pauling was nominated at least seventy times for a Nobel Prize and was first nominated for the Chemistry Prize in 1940.  He received nominations nearly every year after until he received the Prize in 1954.  He was nominated for the Peace Prize in 1962 before being awarded the Prize in 1963.  He was also nominated in 1953 for Medicine.  Pauling is the only person to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes, although he was also nominated many times as a co-recipient.

Nobel Prize nominations older than fifty years old are available in an online database for researchers and other interested parties to review. Nominations are sealed for fifty years, as stipulated by the statutes of the Nobel Foundation.  The database includes the nominator’s name and some additional basic information, including location and institutional affiliation.

Today’s post will focus on those who nominated Pauling for the Nobel Chemistry Prize during the years 1940-1948. (You’ll see that Pauling was quite popular in 1948) Later posts will itemize the remainder of his Nobel Chemistry nominations, as well as his nominations for Physiology or Medicine, and for Peace.



  • John G. Kirkwood: American physicist and chemist who focused on physical chemistry.  He earned his BS from the University of Chicago and his PhD from MIT.
  • Karl Landsteiner: Considered the father of transfusion medicine, he was an Austrian immunologist and pathologist. He won the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the major blood groups and for the development of the ABO system of blood typing, which allowed for successful blood transfusions.  When he nominated Pauling, he was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).
    • Nominated with Max Bergmann: Jewish-German biochemist who specialized in decoding protein and peptide structures. This discovery was key for understanding biochemical processes. At the time of his nomination he was a doctor in New York City.



  • Albert Szent-Györgyi: Hungarian physiologist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1937 “for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid.”  He was credited with discovering vitamin C and the components and reactions of the citric acid cycle.  When he nominated Pauling, he was a chairholder at the University of Szeged in Hungary, a Nobel invited university for the Chemistry Prize.



  • Robert Millikan: American experimental physicist, who won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics for his measurement of the elementary electronic charge and his work on the photoelectric effect. In 1923 he was working at Caltech.



  • William N. Lacey: A chemical engineer, Lacey was a chairholder at Caltech, which was an invited university in 1944.  While at Caltech, Lacey helped to develop the chemical engineering program.  He was also the author or co-author of six textbooks and over 140 scientific papers.
    • Lacey and Stuart Bates (below) made their nominations jointly
  • Stuart J. Bates: Professor of physical chemistry and chairholder at an invited university, Caltech.
  • Joseph Koepfli: Caltech chemist and research associate in organic chemistry.  Koepfli worked to develop the blood substitute oxypolygelatin with Pauling and during the Second World War he also researched antimalarial drugs.  In 1944 he was a chairholder when Caltech was invited to nominate laureates.



  • Kirkwood (see 1940 above)
  • Robert Livingston: Physician, neuroscientist, and social activist.  Professor of physiology and chairholder at the invited University of Minnesota.
  • Charles P. Smyth: American physical chemist and chairholder at an invited university, Princeton.  He studied dielectric properties of matter.

Pauling and colleagues in Paris, 1948.


  • Sir Christopher Kelk Ingold: British chemist who studied reaction mechanisms and the electronic structure of organic compounds.  His work served as an introduction into mainstream chemistry of nucleophile, electrophile, inductive and resonance effects and he is regarded as one of the chief pioneers of organic chemistry.  He was a chairholder at University College of London, an invited university, at the time of Pauling’s nomination.
  • Richard Badger: Professor of chemistry and chairholder at an invited university. He developed Badger’s rule, which expresses the relationship between the forces acting between two atoms and the distance separating them.  As an authority on the spectroscopic study of molecules in the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet regions, he conducted important spectroscopic studies of complex molecules.  He also used spectroscopic techniques to explore the conditions under which hydrogen bonds form and to study the contributions such bonds make to the stability of molecular structures.  Badger’s experimental results constituted a valuable resource for his Caltech colleague, Linus Pauling.
    • This nomination was made jointly by Badger, Stuart Bates and William Lacey (see 1944 above), as well as Howard Lucas, Carl Niemann, Bruce Sage, Ernest Swift, and James Sturdivant, all of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
  • Howard J. Lucas: Organic chemist and chairholder at an invited university.  He was at Caltech from the beginning, beginning his career when the school was still known as the Throop College of Technology.  Throughout his career he focused on teaching. Indeed, his real field of endeavor, as he explained it, was “the synthesis of chemists from the raw material of Caltech undergraduates.”
  • Carl Niemann: American biochemist who worked extensively on the chemistry and structure of proteins at Caltech, where in 1948 he was a chairholder.  He is known, with Max Bergmann, for proposing the Bergmann-Niemann hypothesis, which states that proteins consist of 288 residue polypeptides or multiples thereof with periodic sequences of amino acids.  He also contributed to the downfall of the cyclol model of protein structure.  Niemann joined Pauling’s Crellin Laboratory at Caltech in 1938. In 1939 Niemann and Pauling published a strong critique of Dorothy Wrinch’s cyclol hypothesis of protein structure, which held that globular proteins formed inter-linked polyhedral structures. In their rebuttal, Niemann and Pauling argued that X-ray crystallography and other data indicated that cyclol bonds did not occur in proteins and that polypeptides were held together in globular proteins by hydrogen bonds and weaker intermolecular forces.  Niemann went on to head research in immunochemistry and the organic chemistry of proteins.
  • Bruce H. Sage: Chairholder at an invited university, Caltech.  Sage studied petroleum chemistry and phase equilibria in hydrocarbon systems.
  • Ernest H. Swift: Professor in chemical engineering and chairholder at an invited university, Caltech. His work focused on analytical chemistry.
  • James H. Sturdivant: Chemist and professor of chemistry at Caltech from 1938-72. He also served as a chairholder at the invited university and wrote several articles with Pauling.  He developed the X-ray instrumentation necessary to probe the atomic positioning of crystals of a wide variety of chemical and biological materials.  Using this technology, he determined the crystal structures of brookite, PtMe3Cl, and cerium metal.  He also developed X-ray diffraction methods to determine the structures of complex ions in solution.
  • Harold Clayton Urey: Working at the University of Chicago, Urey was an American physical chemist whose pioneering investigations of isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for the discovery of deuterium.  He played a significant role in the development of the atom bomb and gaseous diffusion, but may be most well-known for his contributions to theories on the development of organic life from non-living matter.  In 1958 he accepted a post as a professor-at-large at the new University of California, San Diego where he helped to create the science faculty. He was one of the founding members of UCSD’s school of chemistry, which was created in 1960.
    • This nomination was made jointly with Willard Libby and Joseph Mayer.
  • Willard Frank Libby: A physical chemist and specialist in radiochemistry – particularly hot atom chemistry, tracer techniques, and isotope tracer work.  Libby became well-known at the University of Chicago for his work on natural carbon-14 (radiocarbon) and its use in dating archaeological artifacts. He also studied natural tritium and its use in hydrology and geophysics.  While at the University of Chicago he performed a wide range of scientific advisory and technical consultancy work with industrial firms associated with the Institute for Nuclear Studies, as well as with the Atomic Energy Commission, defense departments, scientific organizations and other universities.  He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960 for creating the method of carbon-14 dating.
  • Joseph Mayer: A theoretical physical chemist, researcher, author and consultant, Mayer is best known for his work on the application of statistical mechanics to concepts of liquids and dense gases.  He formulated the Mayer expansion in statistical field theory, the cluster expansion method, and the Mayer-McMillan solution theory.  In 1948 he was a chairholder at the invited University of Chicago.
  • James Partington: A British physical chemist and historian of chemistry, he was a fellow and council member of the Chemical Society of London as well as the first president of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Early Chemistry, founded in 1937.  His efforts helped to lay the groundwork for the forward evolution of physical chemistry following both World Wars.  He was at an invited university, Queen Mary College in London, when he nominated Pauling.
  • George Glockler: Physical chemist at the University of Iowa who studied the electrochemistry of gases, molecular structure, and bond energies. He was also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
    • Nominated with Glenn Theodore Seaborg: Seaborg spent most of his career as an educator and research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, serving as a professor, and, between 1958 and 1961, as the university’s chancellor.  He was the principal discoverer or co-discoverer of ten elements: plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium and element 106, which, while he was still living, was named seaborgium in his honor.  He also discovered more than 100 atomic isotopes and is credited with important contributions to the chemistry of plutonium, originally as part of the Manhattan Project, where he developed the extraction process used to isolate the plutonium fuel used in the second atomic bomb.  He shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1951, awarded jointly with Edwin Mattison McMillan “for their discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements.”
      • Glocker’s first choice for awarding the prize was to Seaborg, while his second choice was Pauling.
  • László Zechmeister: Chairholder at an invited university, Caltech. Zechmeister played a major role in the rapid expansion of the use of chromatography during his years as a professor at the University of Pécs, Hungary, where worked before moving to Caltech in 1940.  He also was the author of the first comprehensive chromatography textbook.
    • Nominated with Paul Rabe: Alkaloid chemist who, while in Hamburg, Germany, succeeded in establishing the correct molecular formula for quinine and successfully synthesized it from quinotoxine.
    • Nominated with Robert Burns Woodward: American synthetic organic chemist at Harvard who is considered by many to be the preeminent organic chemist of the twentieth century, having made key contributions to the subject, especially in the synthesis of complex natural products and the determination of their molecular structure.  He showed that natural products could be synthesized by careful applications of the principles of physical organic chemistry.  In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his achievements in organic synthesis.
  • Urey (see above)
    • Nominated with Klaus Clusius: German physical chemist and professor based in Zurich who worked on the German nuclear project during the Second World War, focusing on isotope separation and heavy water production.  In 1938 he developed a thermodiffusion isotope separation tube with his younger colleague, Gerhard Dickel.  His main fields of interest were reaction kinetics, low temperature studies, and the investigation of isotopes.
    • Nominated with Gerhard Dickel: Developed a thermodiffusion isotope separation tube, in 1938, with Clusius.  He was a professor in Munich at the time of his nomination.
    • Urey’s first choice was Seaborg and J. Kennedy, while his second choice was Clusius, possibly divided with Dickel. His third choice was Pauling.
  • Byron Riegel: Organic chemist and chairholder at an invited university, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He studied oral contraceptives.
    • Nominated with Roger Adams: American organic chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign best known for the Adams catalyst.  His furthered the understanding of the composition of naturally occurring substances such as complex vegetable oils and plant alkaloids.  Adams’ research represents a high point for structural organic chemistry, particularly on natural products, before the Instrumental Revolution and before the emergence of physical organic chemistry as a major field.
    • Nominated with Arne W. Tiselius: In 1947 Tiselius became a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry and served as vice-president of the Nobel Foundation.  He was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his work on electrophoresis and adsorption analysis and especially for his discovery of the complex nature of the proteins occurring in blood serum.” He discovered the governing factors, and developed a very elegant and accurate optical method, for the quantitative measurement of the diffusion of water vapor and other gases into zeolite crystals.
    • Riegel’s first choice was Pauling, followed by Adams and then Tiselius. His fourth choice was Glenn Seaborg, and his fifth was Vladimir Ipatieff.



Pauling’s Nobel Chemistry Prize



Image is captioned: “Prof. Linus Pauling stole the show at the Nobel banquet with his cheerful laugh.” Credit: MT söndag, 1954.

[Part 2 of 6]

Nominated at least seventy times for prizes in chemistry, medicine and peace, Linus Pauling is the only person to have ever won two unshared Nobel Prizes. The Chemistry Prize, received in 1954, would be his first; he received the second prize in 1963 for Peace.

By the time that Pauling won the Chemistry Nobel in 1954, many believed the prize to be long overdue. Pauling himself had started to feel that he might never win one because his most important work to that point comprised a body of research rather than the singular specific discovery for which Nobel Prizes had usually been awarded.  Pauling also knew that he had been nominated in 1953 by Albert Szent-Györgyi, but did not receive the support of the Nobel Committee.

News of Pauling’s Chemistry Prize spurred a huge influx of correspondence and congratulations from colleagues and friends, both locally and globally.  The award ceremony also prompted a world tour that lasted almost five months, beginning with two weeks of sightseeing in Norway and Sweden as a family.


Image is captioned: “Prof. Linus Pauling stole the show at the Nobel banquet with his cheerful laugh.” Credit: MT söndag, 1954.

Prior to 1954, Pauling had been nominated for the Chemistry Prize nearly every year beginning in 1940.  And although he was nominated several times to share a prize with various colleagues, these individuals were not always people with whom he had worked, but also included fellow scientists who had focused on similar projects as had Pauling.

In 1954 Pauling was nominated thirteen times for the Chemistry Prize, twice with a partner: German organic chemist Hans Lebrecht Meerwein and American organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward. Five of the 1954 nominators had also submitted Pauling’s name in preceding years, colleagues including Edward Doisy, Jacques Hadamard, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Arne Tiselius, and Karl Freudenberg.  New and notable nominations in 1954 came from French chemists Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and the American astronomer Harlow Shapley.

In his will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that one prize was to go to “the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement.”  In 1954 Pauling was honored “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.” Pauling’s prize marked the first time that the Nobel Committee had recognized a collection of work rather than “the most important chemical discovery or improvement” of a given year.


Pauling learned that he was to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on November 3, 1954, just 45 minutes before giving a lecture at Cornell University. He recalled later that he “had a little trouble with the seminar.” Soon after finding out that he had won the Nobel, congratulations began to come from his nominators, who were colleagues and friends from around the world.  Hundreds of letters and telegrams soon followed.

The tenth American to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Pauling was honored by the Nobel Committee for his study of the structure of matter and of the seemingly invisible forces that hold together the building blocks of all matter. When asked for his thoughts on this work, Pauling first explained that it was the support and environment that fellow scientists and collaborators had created at Caltech that helped him to win the prize. He likewise noted that he had been able to develop his theories as a result of many years worth of work – by him and others – on x-ray crystallography and the behavior of electronically irradiated chemicals.


Stage presentation of “The Road to Stockholm: The Appalling Life of Linus Pauling,” 1954. Verner Shomaker and Ken Hedberg stand near the microphone.

The Paulings began their trip to Stockholm with a bon voyage party thrown by Caltech faculty on December 3rd.  The gala was held at the Caltech Athenaeum and attended by 353 people – the largest dinner served there up to that point.  In addition to a meal, the evening’s events included an ode to Pauling performed by a muse on the harp.

Afterward, the dinner attendees joined others at Caltech’s Culbertson Hall for a showcase celebrating Pauling.  This lighthearted affair included the performance of a skit titled “The Road to Stockholm,” a humorous tale of Pauling’s scientific work and life as performed by Pauling’s colleagues, who called themselves the “Chemistry-Biology Stock Company.”  Afterward, a buoyant Pauling told the media that the event had been the “high point of my life.”

Once in Scandinavia, Ava Helen and Linus were accompanied by their children Linus Jr. (joined by his wife, Anita), Peter, Linda, and Crellin. For the duration of their visit, the entire Pauling family found themselves on prominent display in the Swedish press.


From an article, “Festivitas och Gladje Kring Nobelbanketten”, Dagens Nyheter, December 12, 1954.

A total of six Nobel Prizes can potentially be presented in any given year: one each in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and the economic sciences.  And in 1954 all but the Physics Prize – awarded to Max Born and Walter Bothe for their “fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function” – were granted to Americans.  Laureates alongside Pauling included Ernest Hemingway (Literature), and Drs. John Enders, Thomas Wellers, and Frederick Robbins (Medicine).  In 1954 no Peace Prize was awarded, and the Economics Prize was not established until 1968.

Pauling described the Nobel Ceremony in Stockholm as “very impressive…it must be one of the most impressive ceremonies in the modern world.” The pageantry marking Pauling’s decoration began on December 9th, with a reception hosted by the Royal High Chamberlain of Sweden, who was also President of the Nobel Foundation.  This gathering was followed by a formal dinner hosted by the Secretary of the Swedish Academy.


The following day, the laureates received their Nobel Prizes from King Gustav Adolph at the Stockholm Concert Hall. Following that was the Nobel Dinner, held in the Gold Room of the Stockholm City Hall. The dinner coincided with a torchlight parade organized by Swedish university students, and Pauling was honored to deliver a response to the students on behalf of all the year’s Nobel laureates, in which he famously encouraged the students to always think for themselves.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture was delivered the next day, on December 11th.  Titled “Modern Structural Chemistry,” the talk outlined Pauling’s advancements in structural and inorganic chemistry.  Pauling situated this work within a broader time frame to both add context to his own achievements in the field and to connect them with the work of others. As he interpreted the historical evolution of modern structural chemistry, he explained

The development of the theory of molecular structure and the nature of the chemical bond during the past twenty-five years has been in considerable part empirical – based upon the facts of chemistry – but with the interpretation of these facts greatly influenced by quantum mechanical principles and concepts.

He concluded his remarks with a prophetic statement on what he saw coming in the future:

We may, I believe, anticipate that the chemist of the future who is interested in the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and other complex substances with high molecular weight will come to rely upon a new structural chemistry, involving precise geometrical relationships among the atoms in the molecules and the rigorous application of the new structural principles, and that great progress will be made, through this technique, in the attack, by chemical methods, on the problems of biology and medicine.

His lecture delivered, Pauling and his wife rounded out their Nobel adventure at the royal palace as dinner guests of Sweden’s King and Queen.


The Nobel Chemistry medal depicts nature, in the form of the goddess Isis, emerging from clouds and holding a cornucopia in her arms.  The veil that would cover her face is held back by the Genius of Science.  The inscription on the medal reads: Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes which, loosely translated, means “And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.”  (Word for word: “inventions enhance life which is beautified through art.”) Below the goddess and Genius, the name of the laureate is engraved on a plate adjacent to the text “REG. ACAD. SCIENT. SUEC.” which stands for The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The medal itself was designed by Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg.  The obverse side of the medal depicts Alfred Nobel in profile, and the years of his birth and death.


Accompanying Pauling’s medal was a Nobel diploma and a monetary award.  In 1954 the prize award amount was $35,000, or approximately $305,517.00 in today’s dollars.  When asked how he would spend it, Pauling responded, “most scientists have plenty of old bills to pay.”

Following the ceremonies in Sweden, Ava Helen and Linus toured the world for almost five months.  They spent Christmas in Bethlehem and later traveled all throughout Asia, visiting India and Japan in particular, and meeting with colleagues at universities and elsewhere. Pauling believed that it was especially important for him to visit India as, earlier in the year, he had been denied a passport to travel to the subcontinent, though he had been invited personally by India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Paulings were well-received throughout their world travels, and they returned home from their trip even more determined to fight for peace and global disarmament. This work which would eventually lead to another Nobel Prize, accepted some nine years later.

The Nobel Prizes: History and Mechanics


Alfred Nobel.

[Ed Note: Immersed as we are in the sheer volume and diversity of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, it is sometimes easy for us as a staff to overlook the fact that Linus Pauling remains the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes.  As we begin our ninth year of blogging, we’ll be addressing Pauling’s extraordinary accomplishment with a six-part series.  The first three parts will focus on the history and mechanics of the Nobel Prize, and the story of Pauling’s receipt of his two prizes in 1954 and 1963.  The latter three parts will discuss those individuals who nominated Pauling for his awards, data that has recently made available by the Nobel Foundation.]

Linus Pauling is the only person who has received two unshared Nobel Prizes, one in Chemistry (1954) and another for Peace (1962, awarded in 1963).  Three other individuals have won two Nobels, but they shared the prizes. These three additional double laureates are Marie Curie (also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize), Frederick Sanger and John Bardeen.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and businessman who developed a safe way to detonate dynamite. One of his primary strengths was his ability to combine the imaginative and explorative mind of the scientist and inventor with the forward thinking of the industrialist.  Nobel was also very interested in social and peace-related issues, and held what many considered to be radical views in his era. He likewise maintained a great interest in literature and wrote his own poetry and dramatic works.


Portrait of Alfred Nobel by Emil Österman, 1915

Before he died, Nobel decided that the great wealth that he had accumulated over a lifetime of work should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”  The Nobel Prizes thus became an extension and a fulfillment of his life-long interests. After many years spent traveling and establishing laboratories in twenty different countries, Alfred Nobel died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896.  He was sixty-three years old.

When Nobel’s will was unsealed, it came as a surprise to many that his fortune – equivalent to $265 million in 2015 dollars – was to be used to endow prizes honoring high achievement in the arts, sciences, and peace activism.  In his last will and testament, he wrote that his estate:

shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind…which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

He further directed that

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes, no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

The executors of Nobel’s will were two young engineers, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist.  The duo set about forming the Nobel Foundation as an organization to take care of the financial assets left by Nobel for the purposes that he had stipulated, and to coordinate the work of the prize-awarding bodies. This process was not without its difficulties, especially since the will was contested by Nobel’s relatives and questioned by authorities in various countries.


The main task of the Nobel Foundation is to safeguard the financial base of the Nobel Prizes, and to administer the work connected to the selection of the Nobel Laureates.

The nomination process is slightly different for each prize, due to the different institutions and hosting countries involved.  In September or October of the year prior to a prize being awarded, nomination forms are sent out to qualified people to complete confidentially.  Approximately 3,000 people are invited to nominate each year in chemistry; the quantity of nominators varies for the other subject areas.  The requirements for a qualified nominator also vary between awards, but in the case of the chemistry prize they include:

  1. Swedish and foreign members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  2. Members of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry and Physics.
  3. Previous Nobel Laureates in Chemistry or Physics.
  4. Permanent professors in Chemistry at universities and institutes of technology in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
  5. Chair holders at six selected universities or colleges selected by the Academy of Science, which together ensure an adequate distribution of perspectives over different countries and centers of learning.

The Academy may also invite nominations from other scientists whom they see fit to submit names.


The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, 2007 Nobel Foundation image. Photo: Hans Mehlin

Nominations for the chemistry prize are returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, where the five members of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry consult with a collection of experts to vet the names that they have received. The pool of names under consideration often number between 250-300 individuals, due to multiple nominators submitting the same names.

After consulting with experts from March through May, the committee then puts together a report by the end of August.  After the report is completed, the committee submits its recommendations for the prize to the Swedish Academy in September.  These recommendations are discussed by members of the Chemistry Section of the Academy at two meetings.  Nobel laureates are then chosen in early October through a majority vote.  This vote is final and without appeal, and the winner is then announced.  The Nobel laureates receive their prizes on December 10 at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The prize consists of a Nobel medal and diploma, as well as a document insuring the cash award associated with the prize.


The Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, 2008. Nobel Foundation image. Photo: Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen

The Nobel Peace Prize varies slightly in its nomination process.  For one, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for Nobel Peace Prize selection.  For another, a letter of invitation to nominate is not required and the qualifications of a nominator also differ.  Nominators must be one of the following:

  1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states.
  2. Members of international courts.
  3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law, or theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes.
  4. Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace.
  5. Board members of organizations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  6. Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
  7. Former advisers to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

For the Peace prize, there is no standardized form for nominations due to an understanding of the many ways that a nominee’s qualities can be described.  However, nominations must include the name of the candidate; an explanation as to why the person or organization is deemed worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize; and the name, title, and professional affiliation of the nominator.

After receiving the nominations submitted before February 1, the Norwegian Nobel Committee prepares a short list of names by assessing the nominations’ validity and the candidates’ work.  Nominations received after February 1 are included in the pool for the following year.

At its first meeting, the Peace Prize committee’s permanent secretary presents the list of candidates, which can be reviewed and added to. After this, the nomination process is considered closed, and the short list is prepared.  Through August, advisers review the short list, which usually consists of twenty to thirty names, and create reports detailing their evaluation of the candidates under consideration.  Advisers can include Norwegian university professors maintaining broad and varied expertise in relevant subject areas.  When necessary, reports are also requested from other Norwegian and foreign experts.  The Nobel Committee examines these reports in order to determine the most appropriate candidate and decides if any more information is needed.

In another difference from the Chemistry prize, the Peace Prize decision strives to be unanimous and is determined at the final meeting of the committee, held in October just before the prizes are announced.  Just as with chemistry, the Peace Prize laureate is chosen and announced in early October, with the decision being final and without appeal.  Though the ceremony for the Peace Prize takes place at City Hall in Oslo, Norway, it too is held on the tenth of December, the date that all Nobel awards are presented. As with the chemistry laureates, recipients of the Peace Prize receive a medal and diploma, as well as a certificate confirming the prize amount.  For both prizes, nomination information is made not available for until fifty years following a nomination.