Pauling, Stanford and Research – Part 2

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Pauling in lecture at Stanford University, 1969. Photo by George Feigen.

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s tenure at Stanford University. This is part 5 of 7.]

Linus Pauling knew going into his appointment at Stanford University that grants and outside funding would of paramount importance to keeping his research afloat. In September 1972 – three years into his tenure – Pauling authored a memo describing his work for the chemistry department in which he explained that his Stanford salary was now coming exclusively from grants, and that he had no other assigned duties at the university besides heading research. He likewise noted that he was actively working to bringing in new sources of money as well. In particular, he had “negotiated” a sickle-cell anemia contract with NIH earlier in June, estimating that $92,000 would be necessary from the agency.

The previous year, in spring 1971, Pauling applied for a grant from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to build a field ionization spectrometer for use in his urine analysis diagnoses. This device had only recently become available, the result of new technological advances in instrument design. In his application, Pauling detailed the potentially profound impact that this piece of equipment would have on his work.

This device would make possible simultaneous quantitative analysis and identification of 500-1000 chemical substances in a human body fluid in a time period of a few minutes and with an expenditure of only a few dollars per sample.

Pauling requested $387,554 for the project. It appears from a later report on his activities that he received the grant.

While Pauling enjoyed a long track record of success in attracting funding for his work, it was not always enough. In August 1972, Perry West, an administrative officer at Stanford, wrote to Pauling’s colleague and lab-mate, Art Robinson, to inform him that the laboratory’s current NIH and NSF funds would only last until the end of the year, two months short of what they had been meant to cover. As it turned out, Pauling’s laboratory had been using more computer time than they had been allocated, and had “drastically overdrawn” one account which they needed reconcile for themselves. The group has also overdrafted a second computing account that West had been funding for them.


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In addition to finding money, establishing institutional support for his research was also important for Pauling as he began to push for something a bit more ambitious: the formation at Stanford of a new Department of Orthomolecular Medicine and Nutrition. In a pre-proposal written in August 1972, Pauling called for a revitalization of nutrition as an active field of research at the university. In that same memo he also defined orthomolecular medicine “as the preservation of good health and the treatment of disease by varying concentrations in the human body of substances that are normally present in the body and are required for health.”

A few months later, in January 1973, Pauling brought his proposal to William F. Miller, Stanford’s Vice President and Provost. In making his pitch, Pauling emphasized the potential for orthomolecular medicine to bring in “millions of dollars” of funding. He also described the ways in which interest in orthomolecular research had already been taking off. By way of evidence, Pauling noted several talks that he had given the previous fall, details of which had made their way into the press.

As became readily apparent in the years that followed, Pauling also saw potential for vitamin C to treat a number of maladies including cancer, skin diseases, schizophrenia, the common cold and other infections. To begin actively investigating these tantalizing possibilities, he wanted to establish research centers at both Stanford and the University of Chicago. Miller replied to Pauling that he would consider his proposal and discuss it with the Dean of the Medical School.


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The Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine, 2700 Sand Hill Rd. Menlo Park, CA.

During this time, Pauling was also being encouraged by others reaching out to him, particularly Ewan Cameron, a surgeon and medical researcher at the Vale Leven Hospital in Scotland. Cameron shared with Pauling data related to his own successful use of vitamin C in treating bladder cancer patients. Pauling wanted to follow up on Cameron’s success and, in 1972, the two attempted to publish a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science on ascorbic acid as a treatment for cancer and other diseases. Their paper was initially rejected and, after Pauling resubmitted it, it was rejected again, an action that was described as “professional censorship” in an editorial published within the Medical Tribune.

Undaunted, Pauling continued to push his interests in developing orthomolecular medicine at Stanford and, in May 1973, proposed that the university consider building a new laboratory dedicated to the topic. In addition to the direct benefit of providing support for orthomolecular research, Pauling argued that a new laboratory would remove this work from the chemistry building, allowing it to emphasize its closer sympathies with medical research. Pauling again approached William Miller, telling him that a donor had already promised to give $50,000 for construction, which was estimated to be about half of the total cost. Pauling also expected other grants to come in as well.

Ultimately, Miller did not think it wise to pursue construction of Pauling’s orthomolecular facility. In rendering this judgement, Miller explained that Pauling had only been at Stanford for a short period of time and that his position was subject to annual renewals. This being the case, Miller did not want to “institutionalize” Pauling’s work unless Pauling was able to convince others in the chemistry and medical departments of its importance.

In effect, Pauling was told that, if he wanted his space, he would have to win over his colleagues first and convince them to initiate their own research programs in orthomolecular medicine. If this were to come about and more faculty with plenty of years ahead of them were to push for the idea, then Miller would be more open to considering a new capital project. Short of this, Miller suggested that donor funds be steered toward a more general purpose facility that would be made available to all chemistry faculty members.

Miller’s decision was important as it directly led to Pauling’s departure from Stanford University. Motivated to develop a space to pursue what he believed to be an exciting line of research, Pauling began to look for a laboratory facility off campus. This search led him to a building in Menlo Park near the Stanford Linear Accelerator. Not long after, the building became home to the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine which, in 1974, was renamed the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

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Pauling, Stanford and Research – Part 1

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Pauling in lecture at Stanford University, 1969. Photo by George Feigen.

[Looking back on Pauling’s tenure at Stanford University. This is part 4 of 7.]

While at Stanford, Pauling actively sought to make the best use that he could of the laboratory and computing equipment available on the campus. In June 1970, about a year after his arrival, Pauling wrote to Paul John Flory, then the chair of the chemistry department, inquiring about the possibility of his taking charge of the department’s x-ray facilities. The supervisory position had been recently vacated and Pauling suggested that he could run the facilities until the department had found someone more permanent in two or three years.

In presenting this unusual offer, Pauling referred to his need to continue work that he had initiated at UC-San Diego with Art Robinson and Ian Keaveny on the structures of inorganic compounds including delta iron (III) oxyhydroxide and tri-cadmium diarsenide. Having routine access to x-ray equipment, Pauling pointed out, would greatly assist with this ambition.

Besides working out the structures of inorganic compounds, Pauling also sought to develop a new technique to measure atomic distances. To do so, Pauling wanted to attach a computer to an x-ray diffraction apparatus which would convert x-ray diffraction intensity functions into radial distribution functions. In compounds containing two metal atoms, this conversion would serve to determine the distance between the pair. What’s more, the addition of a computer would greatly speed up the process by which this determination could be made — Pauling suggested that results would be available within a few minutes.


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ACME designer Gio Wiederhold and technician Voy Wiederhold. Image credit: Stanford Medical School.

Indeed, the advanced computing infrastructure then available at Stanford was very enticing for Pauling and he did what he could to take advantage. Perhaps most importantly, in August 1970 Pauling requested access to ACME, an IBM computing network available to university researchers through Stanford’s Medical School. Usage of ACME was restricted and Pauling needed to submit formal letters to the ACME Subcommittee on User Charges to gain access.

Once he had been approved, Pauling was obligated to pay usage fees through an account that was set up for him and that contained artificially limited funds. At the start, Pauling’s research group would be allocated $200 per month for “pageminutes,” which cost 1 cent, and $100 per month for disk storage, which cost 10 cents per block per month. The amounts allocated to this account were not always enough to cover everything that Pauling wanted to do.

Pauling’s primary interest in ACME was in its use as a tool to analyze the urine of persons suffering from schizophrenia and other mental diseases. In addition to other types of assessments, Pauling’s laboratory carried out chromatographic analyses looking at about 200 different substances in the urine both before and after a given individual had been placed on a special diet and vitamin regimen. As Pauling told Trammell Lonas, who helped to coordinate Pauling’s use of ACME, “The analysis of these data in a reliable way can be made only with use of a computer.” As such, it was critically important that Pauling have access to ACME.


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Linus Pauling Jr. with his father at an event in New York, 1971.

Maintaining a well-staffed laboratory was also crucial to moving the schizophrenia research forward. Linus Pauling Jr. – the eldest of the Pauling children and a psychologist who lived in Honolulu – even joined the laboratory as a part-time assistant for a short period beginning in October 1970.

The next month, Pauling offered a Research Fellow position to Paul Cary, who was on leave from the Rockefeller University. Pauling specifically wanted Cary to run the chromatography tests central to the laboratory’s analysis of the urine of schizophrenia patients.

Cary had earlier reached out to Art Robinson, asking him to provide a reference letter as he looked for positions while on leave. Learning this, Pauling decided that it would make sense for Cary to come work for him instead. In his offer, Pauling suggested that “It seems to me that the work has come to a very exciting stage, after a long period of difficulty in getting problems ironed out.” Cary promptly accepted the position.


In October 1973, as part of his laboratory’s development of urine analysis techniques, Pauling also requested the grade point averages of 180 students who were participating as research subjects. In so doing, Pauling explained that “One question that is of interest to us is whether there is a difference in composition of the urine for students with different academic accomplishments.”

As it happened, Pauling was particularly interested in testing A. L. Kubala and M. M. Katz’s results from a 1960 study that showed an improvement in students’ grades after drinking orange juice for several months. Walter J. Findeisen, the recorder at Stanford’s Office of the Registrar, told Pauling that he was not allowed provide GPAs, but that he could could make use of letter grade indicators, such as A, B, C, etc. This is the route that Pauling ultimately decided to take.


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During his time in Palo Alto, Pauling’s nutrition research often took him beyond Stanford’s campus. In the spring of 1970, Pauling became a consultant for Vivonex, a company that produced a nutritional replacement for use by people who were unable to consume food orally and digest it themselves. According to a 1969 pamphlet that Pauling saved, people had lived off of Vivonex for three years straight, all the time relying on the product as their sole source of nutrition. The company also claimed that the product would help to move people towards their “ideal weight.” While Pauling was not offered a fee for his consultancy work, he did receive 500 shares of stock.

Not content to simply act as a consultant, Pauling began taking Vivonex himself, as did Ava Helen Pauling and Art Robinson. In fact, the three lived off of Vivonex as their sole sustenance for three two-week periods. After taking it for a few months however, the three began experiencing headaches and lethargy to degrees that exceeded what they had previously experienced. These symptoms prompted Pauling to ask for a complete list of ingredients, including the quantity of each, and to lessen the intensity of his self-experimentation.

In February 1971, Morton-Norwich Products, Inc. purchased Vivonex, and Pauling was eventually compelled to sell his shares for $18.91 each. Though his more rigorous personal trials with the product did not pan out, Pauling had a good experience with Vivonex overall and he continued to recommend it as time moved forward. In one instance, Pauling’s friend and colleague John F. Catchpool asked him for his thoughts on the nutritional replacement Ensure. Pauling replied that, compared with Vivonex, Ensure was somewhat inferior because it was “essentially a milkshake with added vitamins” and it contained molecules like caseinate that required digestion.

Towards the end of his life, in 1993, Pauling came into contact with Vivonex once more, this time during a stay at the hospital. Though in ill health, Pauling still had energy enough to write to John E. Pepper, the president of Proctor and Gamble, which by then was manufacturing Vivonex. In his letter, Pauling complained of the product’s evolution, noting that it’s now “unpleasant taste” made it impossible to consume. Pauling further informed Pepper that he would no longer recommend Vivonex to others. While Pepper did not respond to Pauling’s complaint, another representative did, telling Pauling that the bad taste was likely due to improper preparation.

Pauling at Stanford: The Finals Years and Beyond

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Four Nobel Prize-winning chemists with a connection to Stanford University. From left, Arthur Kornberg, Paul Flory, Henry Taube, and Linus Pauling. This photo was taken in 1983 on the day that Taube received notification of his awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s years at Stanford University, part 3 of 7.]

From the outset, Linus Pauling knew that his time at Stanford as a full professor would be short-lived. Hesitant from the beginning, Stanford had stipulated that Pauling’s contract go up for renewal every year and that his reappointment hinge on his effective supervision of research. Furthermore, during his second year in Palo Alto, beginning fall 1970, Pauling’s salary was reduced by about half.

In fall 1971, at the start of Pauling’s third year, Harden McConnell – a distinguished chemist at Stanford and a close friend of Pauling – defended Pauling’s right to remain a full professor even though he had arrived at the university’s mandatory retirement age of 70. In making his argument, McConnell wrote that no current professor “should have an automatic right to office and/or laboratory space after standard retirement age, nor should any outstanding and active scientist be denied such space merely because of age.” McConnell further suggested that he could easily prove that Pauling fell squarely into the latter category.

In fall 1972, though Pauling’s research activity had remained undeniably high, William F. Miller, Stanford’s Vice President and Provost, informed the Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, Calvin Quate, that he thought it “unwise to approve further reappointments of Dr. Pauling as a regular Professor” and suggested that Pauling be appointed Professor Emeritus beginning in September 1973. In other words, Pauling would be allowed just one more year as a full professor.

As it turned out, Pauling would receive an additional year beyond Miller’s recommendation. This information was formally communicated in a November 1973 letter written by Henry Taube, at the time the chair of the chemistry department. In it he wrote, “Your colleagues in this department hold you and your work in very high esteem and place great value on your continued association with this department.” Taube also told Pauling that when he became Professor Emeritus in fall 1974, he could continue his research contacts with graduate students, though an active professor would need to serve as a “nominal sponsor.” Taube also told Pauling that he could be called back as a full professor at any time.


In fairness, Pauling had begun to retreat from active participation in academic life at Stanford at least a couple of years prior to Taube’s letter. During winter term 1971 he taught his last course, a special topics class on the structure of atomic nuclei. By then, the only real notes that he needed to conduct the course were sets of equations that had been worked out step-by-step in advance.

Pauling also served on the Academic Senate while at Stanford, a stint that lasted for two years and that also came to a conclusion in 1971. In submitting his resignation that spring, Pauling told H. Donald Winbigler, Stanford’s Academic Secretary, that “decisions about the University should be made by younger men who can look forward to a longer period of association with the University.”

As his connections lessened, Stanford’s support withered accordingly. By fall 1972, Pauling was no longer receiving a Stanford salary; only office and laboratory space. As such, his sole form of professional funding was, by this point, coming by way of outside grants that he had been awarded.


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Pauling with other members of the Stanford faculty, 1973. Back Row, (l. to r.) Norman Wessells, Eric Shooter, Pauling, Peter Ramwell, John Luetscher, Jr., Luigi Luzzatti; Front Row (l. to r.): Edward Rubenstein, Arthur Kornberg, Robert Schimke, Robert Hofstadter. Pauling, Kornberg and Hofstadter were all recipients of Nobel Prizes.

In August 1974, Pauling retired from Stanford and formally became Professor Emeritus of Chemistry. But even in this capacity he maintained a connection with the university and his former department. Perhaps most notably, Pauling continued to sit on graduate student committees and steadfastly updated his still-growing list of publications for inclusion in department pamphlets.

After his retirement, colleagues at Stanford also continued to seek out Pauling, often inquiring about the progression of his research. Stanford Magazine likewise profiled Pauling in 1979, some five years after he had left, asking him to reflect on his career and his engagement with the world. In the piece, he explained his approach to life, which had remained remarkably consistent over the years.

I have a sort of general theory of the universe. I try to fit everything I read into the general picture. If I read something that doesn’t fit, I wonder about it. Or, if I think something seems to fit, I try to follow through.

He also reflected on the varying degrees of satisfaction that he had derived from his work as a scientist and peace advocate: “With the Chemistry Prize, I was just enjoying myself, learning about the nature of the world,” Pauling explained, “having a good time and making a living, too, as a professor… The Peace Prize came for work that I was doing as a sacrifice… I was taking time away from the things I really like to do, but doing it because of a sense of duty.”


Pauling maintained a residence on the Stanford campus and, by 1984, he was still delivering guest lectures for courses taught at the university. One of these was for an Optimal Health and Fitness course taught by Dr. Jack Martin. Following Pauling’s appearance, Martin shared some of the student feedback that he had received concerning their guest lecturer. The comments covered a range of impressions including: “smart guy but not very interesting”; “vehement and extremely knowledgeable, not to mention amusing”; “entertaining, but a grain of salt is necessary”; “it is always great to hear from someone as famous as he”; “new stuff, good presentation”; “a little weird”; and “incredible man.”

As late as spring 1993, Pauling remained on call to represent Stanford on occasion. In one instance, he participated in a meeting with the Swedish Minister of Education and Science, Per Unckel, who was visiting to explore a potential research collaboration on environmental problems. Associate Dean of Research Patricia Devaney had asked Pauling to meet with Unckel during his visit and Pauling, then 92 years old, obliged.

In the years following his passing, Pauling remained of interest to the Stanford community. An undergraduate student, Kristine Yu, wrote about Pauling for the spring 2003 issue of The Stanford Scientific, basing her article on press releases and conversations with those who had known him.

One anecdote concerned a visit that Pauling had made to Henry Taube’s home. The story had it that Pauling was interested in an “unusual” geode that Taube had brought back from Brazil. As Pauling looked at the specimen, Taube shared his personal theory of how it had been formed. Pauling responded, “If you feel that strongly about it, you should write a paper on it.” Not long afterwards, Pauling sent Taube a long letter explaining how Taube’s theory was wrong.

Pauling at Stanford: Settling In

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Linus Pauling, 1969. Credit: Margo Moore.

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s years at Stanford University. Part 2 of 7.]

Linus Pauling began his appointment as Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University on July 1, 1969. During his years in Palo Alto, Pauling’s experimental work largely focused on developing and refining urine and breath analyses for use in diagnosing various diseases and genetic conditions ranging from schizophrenia to cancer, skin disease, heart disease, and Huntington’s chorea. In addition to funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, Pauling and his laboratory were supported by a collection of smaller awards including a 1971 grant from the American Schizophrenia Association.

During his Stanford years, Pauling also continued to promote his research and peace work through a hectic travel schedule and regular publications. In January 1970, Pauling served as Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Chili, where he also received the Medal of the Senate of Chili. That same year, Pauling published an influential article, “Evolution and the Need for Ascorbic Acid” as well as his book Vitamin C and the Common Cold. The latter would become a bestseller.

In 1971 Pauling published six articles, one on nuclear weapons and others covering various topics in chemistry. He also completed revisions for, and saw published, the third edition of his hugely successful textbook, General Chemistry. In April 1971, he received the Lenin International Peace Prize at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. The next year, he partnered with Paul Wolf in the Department of Pathology to study sickle cell anemia. And in early 1973, Orthomolecular Psychiatry was published, which Pauling co-edited with David Hawkins. In short, though now in his early 70s, it was clear that Pauling had no intention of slowing down.


Not long after his arrival, Pauling identified a need to begin situating himself within the university’s administrative apparatus. One of the first items on his to-do list was to update his consent forms and put them on Stanford letterhead. Since he was now associated the university, doing so would help should any legal problems arise with his research.

As part of this process, Pauling also had to make sure that his experimental designs were in accordance with Stanford’s standards by running them by the university’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research. This process included, for one, clarifying whether or not the dose of Vitamin-B6 used in a particular study “approach[ed] the 4 GM/Kg that produces convulsions and death in animals.”

Perhaps most importantly, though he fully understood the modest circumstances governing his hire at Stanford, Pauling was nonetheless perturbed at times with the accommodations that had been made for him. In an undated letter to Alan Grundmann, a that time an assistant to the Stanford provost, Pauling complained about his small work area, emphasizing that space around him was sitting unused. As his mood soured, Pauling demanded that Stanford do a better job of acting in accordance with the space guarantees that had been stipulated in his contract. Pauling subsequently threatened to leave if the situation didn’t improve, suggesting that he might return to the University of California in San Diego, where he knew that they had enough space for him.


Though his relationship with administration may not have been perfect, other faculty members at Stanford were clearly very interested in Pauling’s research and teaching. Not long after he arrived, a variety of professors began asking Pauling to address classes varying from a general chemistry course, a psychiatry research seminar, and a postgraduate survey of basic medical science. Pauling also spoke to medical and psychiatry students about vitamin C and his newly developing concept of orthomolecular medicine.

Pauling’s understanding of social issues also proved to be a draw for his colleagues. In one instance, he and Ava Helen jointly addressed a freshman seminar on the social responsibility of scientists. Pauling also participated in Stanford’s Professional Journalism Fellowship Program series, at which he was asked to respond to the question, “What would you do if you were Secretary of State?”

Even Pauling’s personal medical examinations piqued interest within the Stanford community. Roy H. Maffly at the Department of Medicine conducted a renal evaluation of Pauling, a study that was possibly inspired by Pauling’s successful bout with glomerulonephritis in the 1940s. (a medical triumph that had been led by a Stanford physician, Thomas Addis) Maffly was also keen to learn more about Pauling’s own urine studies and agreed to interpret the results of Pauling’s evaluation using Pauling’s methods.

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Within the Chemistry Department, Pauling joined the Industrial Affiliates Committee, which was chaired by his friend Carl Djerassi. This committee sought to connect private corporations to the research being conducted within the Chemistry Department by addressing questions like the relationship between chemistry and chemical engineering. Pauling was also involved in organizing different symposia for the committee, speaking at its first such gathering in November 1969. He likewise represented the group when he presented on his vitamin C research at an international conference in 1973.

Pauling further integrated himself into the Chemistry Department by taking on graduate students. By the start of his second year, Pauling was chairing two doctoral committees and was a member of four others. His students included Robert Copland Dunbar, who was using ion cyclotron resonance to study the interactions between ions and molecules. Margaret Blethen and John Blethen, both of whom worked with Pauling on his schizophrenia studies, and David Partridge, who worked on the chromatographic analysis of urine samples, were also mentees of Pauling’s.

Working with doctoral students gave Pauling the opportunity to offer advice based on his experiences at the University of California San Diego, where graduate students rotated between different laboratories during their initial months. Pauling suggested to others in the Chemistry Department that first year students rotate through six different laboratories, spending six-week periods in each over the course of the year. Pauling believed this to be an effective way for new students to get to know staff and to better understand the different lines of research being conducted. Armed with these experiences, the students would then be better able to make a considered decision when it came time to choose the path that they would follow at the start of their second year. Pauling also suggested that graduate student research not be tied to funding.

 

Pauling at Stanford: Prelude

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[This is the first installation of a seven-part series examining Linus Pauling’s years at, and associations with, Stanford University.]

Long before arriving at Stanford University as a professor, Linus Pauling had built a working relationship with the Stanford Research Institute through its branch office in Los Angeles. In February 1950, Pauling agreed to join the branch’s advisory panel on atmospheric pollution. Pauling’s role on the panel, according to J. E. Hobson, the director of the Stanford Research Institute, was to give “scientific and technical assistance in connection with our air pollution activities and, particularly, assistance regarding the solution of the Los Angeles smog problem.” The panel was to meet monthly at the University Club in Los Angeles over a period of six to eight months. Pauling would be paid a $100 consulting fee for each meeting.

The panel’s gatherings typically centered around a specific topic like ozone, the chemistry of hydrocarbons, or the future of research. One other meeting consisted of a tour of the laboratory at the Pasadena Field Office. After making this visit in July 1950, Pauling offered suggestions for improving the air cleaning technologies that were under development there. Specifically, Pauling suggested to A. M. Zarem, director of the Los Angeles Laboratory of the Stanford Research Institute, that “an effort be made to fractionate the oxidant in smog by the use of a variant of chromatographic adsorption.”

Unable to recall the names of those who had previously done similar research, Pauling provided his own suggestions on the best way to clean smog-filled air. Pauling’s method first advised that water vapor be removed from a tube containing activated alumina and liquid air. Having done so, Pauling then suggested increasing the temperature of the system such that a small amount of smog-free air or nitrogen could be passed through the tube, in the process collecting the pollutants. Zarem liked Pauling’s idea and wanted to develop and test it.


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Stanford President J. E. Wallace Sterling. Photo credit: Leo Holub.

A decade later, in early 1961, the smog in the Los Angeles area had gotten so bad that it led Pauling to consider moving away, possibly to Stanford University. In addition to its pristine reputation as a world-class university, Stanford was also attractive due to its relative proximity to Pauling’s ranch at Big Sur. The end of his academic career was also on Pauling’s mind, as he would be reaching Caltech’s mandatory retirement age in eight years. At Stanford, on the other hand, he would have an extra two years available to him.

As his thinking progressed, Pauling decided that he would most like to join Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station as their Professor of Molecular Biology, ideally working under a five-year appointment. Lawrence Blinks, who worked at Hopkins, offered Pauling an office in the station’s library and a possible laboratory space on Canary Row.

Before he went up to visit Blinks and Stanford President J. E. Wallace Sterling, Pauling sent a letter assuring Sterling that he would not impose any financial burden on the university since he was able to secure much of his own funding. Pauling’s recent grants had been used to support an eclectic program of work, including his development of a molecular theory of general anesthesia and new inquiries into the potential chemical basis of mental illness. During his visit however, Pauling discovered that a laboratory space would not be available at all and that he would not have access to office space during the summer.

After the visit had been completed, President Sterling followed up, writing that the ideal arrangement that Pauling had put forth was impracticable and would not work. Undaunted, Pauling replied that, even if he did not have access to laboratory space, he would still view working at Stanford as a step in the right direction. In his letter to Sterling, Pauling made his case:

I have thought about the nature of my contributions to science, and have recognized that the important ones are the result of my theoretical work rather than of my experimental work, although the theoretical ideas have sometimes been verified in a valuable way by the experimental work… Moreover, I have got rather tired of supervising experimental work, and have decided that I want to devote my time instead to theoretical work. In particular, I do not want to administer a laboratory.

Despite this concession on laboratory space, the ability to financially support himself, and his evident usefulness to Hopkins as the study of biology shifted more and more towards a molecular focus, Pauling’s request for a five-year professorship was still too much for Sterling to accept. Thus rejected, Pauling would have to wait almost another decade before his desire to be at Stanford was fulfilled.


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Letter from Harden McConnell to Pauling, January 24, 1969.

At the end of 1968, now five years removed from Caltech, Pauling made contact with Harden McConnell, a professor in Stanford’s chemistry department, and renewed the conversation about his potential move to Palo Alto. McConnell replied that “everyone is enthusiastic” about the possibility that Pauling might join the department.

Despite this, Pauling soon found that he was facing hurdles similar to those he had encountered in 1961. Once again, Pauling went out of his way to emphasize that he would not impose any financial burden on the university and could pay much of his own salary through grants that he had won. At the end of January 1969, McConnell wrote to Pauling with an update, “I have now put the Administration here in a position where they must make a decision soon on your appointment.” Annotating the letter in red ink, McConnell added: “The decision had better be the right one.” Within a few weeks, a verdict was rendered and Pauling was in.


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Linus Pauling, 1969. Photo credit: Ralph Shafer.

Even after he had been accepted, Pauling was made to understand that his future at Stanford was not fully assured and that he would have to follow through on his claims of self-support. For his part, McConnell could only promise that the chemistry department would cover half of Pauling’s salary for the first year. Beyond that, there was no certainty about what future years might look like. In relaying these details, McConnell lamented that, “The Chemistry Department is unanimously in favor of your coming here, and we are all greatly disappointed that the material aspects of the arrangements are so meager.” All the same, by March Pauling had been approved for a one-year appointment that would begin in July 1969.

Unlike his previous attempt to come aboard at Stanford, Pauling was this time given his own laboratory. Located in the Chemical Engineering building, the space was offered for up to three years, were Pauling to stick around that long. Jumping at this opportunity, Pauling began organizing the move of his laboratory infrastructure from San Diego to Stanford, enlisting his former student, Art Robinson – now a professor at UC-San Diego – to head up the operation. In addition to Robinson, post-doc Ian Keaveny and lab technician Sue Oxley also followed Pauling up from southern California. James McKerrow, who had sought out Pauling while he was at UCSD, likewise joined the laboratory as a research assistant.

Shortly after Pauling had completed the move to Palo Alto, he began making himself a part of the Stanford community by donating many of his scientific journals to the university. The community also reached out to Pauling, beginning with faculty in the sciences who began inviting him to participate in various department-sponsored functions. Physics professor Alexander L. Fetter, for one, asked Pauling to join a panel at an upcoming Conference on the Science of Superconductivity. So too did chemist Carl Djerassi enlist Pauling’s participation in a symposium sponsored by the department’s Industrial Affiliates Program.

Ultimately Pauling was forced to turn both of these opportunities down because he was already committed to participating in a Nobel conference and a talk at the Symposium on Sulfide Minerals in New Jersey. As we will see, many other opportunities to participate in all manner of faculty functions arose over the coming years at Stanford.