Peter Pauling: Leaving Home, 1945-1952

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The Pauling family in 1946. From left: Peter, Ava Helen, Linus, Crellin, Linda and Linus Jr.

[The life story of Peter Pauling, part 2 of 9]

In April 1945, while German forces were surrendering to the Allies in Europe, Peter Pauling was completing his education at Flintridge Prep and moving on to McKinley Junior High, where he would enter the 10th grade. He continued to do well in most subjects, with the exception of a few poor marks in Latin. Now fourteen years of age, Peter went outside of the Pauling family home in Pasadena one day to discover a message painted on their garage door; it read: “AMERICANS DIE BUT WE LOVE JAPS. JAPS WORK HERE, PAULING.” Peter quickly called for his parents, who surmised that the hate message had been written by misguided individuals angered by Ava Helen’s work with the American Civil Liberties Union to prevent the internment of many Japanese-American citizens during the war.

Within the year, Linus Jr., now twenty-one years old, had returned home from his time in the Army Air Corps. He promptly came into possession of a 1932 Ford V8 roadster that had belonged to the Mt. Wilson astronomer Ted Dunham, Jr. The car would become something of an heirloom of burgeoning adulthood for the Pauling boys, passing to Peter when Linus Jr. went off to medical school, and then again to Crellin when Peter finished college in California and went off to Cambridge.

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Peter Pauling sitting in the frame of a converted 1932 Model-B Ford, 1947.

In 1947, Linus and Ava Helen returned from a scientific congress in Scandinavia to find their three youngest children growing somewhat depressed by, and resentful of, their frequent long absences. Knowing that they were about to spend six months in England, where Linus would lecture as a visiting professor at Oxford, the Paulings decided it best to take the entire family abroad with them. They traveled by train to New York City in December, where they then boarded The Queen Mary and crossed the Atlantic.

The voyage would prove to be an extraordinary missed opportunity for Linus. Onboard was Erwin Chagraff, who was excited to talk with Pauling about his discovery that DNA nucleotide base pairs obeyed a set rule – a 1:1 ratio of adenine to thymine and cytosine to guanine. As Crellin Pauling later recounted

Chargaff had a reputation as a, well how do you put it politely, as a difficult personality. And what Daddy said to me was that he found Chargaff so unpleasant to be trapped on the Queen Mary with, that he dismissed his work.

In doing so, Pauling overlooked the importance of a critical piece of knowledge that would help lead Watson and Crick to the discovery of the structure of DNA – a discovery with which both Linus Pauling and his son Peter would be intimately involved.


 

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The Paulings at sea, 1948. Peter stands at right.

After the family returned from England,  Peter made the fateful decision to follow in his father’s footsteps, enrolling at Caltech as an undergraduate and assuring his father that his “chief purpose in life” was to be a physicist. Unlike the elder Pauling, however, Peter gravitated almost immediately to those new freedoms that a young man no longer under his parents’ roof might be expected to find suddenly and inescapably important: cars, girls, and parties.

With respect to the former, Peter wrote to his father from Caltech, asking whether or not Linus might be interested in helping to pay for a new engine for the roadster. Peter had already been putting some work into the car since it had passed from Linus Jr.’s hands into his own. Now off at college and free to pursue his own interests, he was eager to get under the hood.

Peter likewise wrote to his mother asking her for advice on different perfumes, listing the names of four different girls, all of whom were apparently familiar to Ava Helen, and asking which scents she thought that each would prefer (he then added a fifth young lady to the list as an afterthought).

While Peter was at Caltech, the Pauling home in Pasadena became something of a social hotspot for young, aspiring scientists, many of them graduate students and postdocs who coveted the opportunity to hobnob with the great Linus Pauling. By right of birth and strength of personality, Peter emerged as both gatekeeper and VIP at such events, and he thrived in this atmosphere. In his biography of Pauling’s life, Force of Nature, author Thomas Hager paints a scene of pilgrims making their way up into the hills on warm afternoons for, “a beer, a dip in the pool, some jokes with Peter, and a chance to flirt with tall, slim, blond, teenaged Linda Pauling.”

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Peter Pauling, ca. late 1940s.

Peter, now nineteen and cruising the streets of Pasadena at night in the modified “hand me down” roadster, was the life of many of these parties. His undergraduate years were accordingly marked by the ecstasies, despairs, and calamities – including a long and somewhat severe case of infectious mononucleosis – familiar to many college students. His father, observing from the middle distance, sent him a stern letter during this period, noting that he had opened some mail at the house intended for his son and that it was from the Bank of America, alerting Peter that his account was overdrawn by 50 cents. Pauling then advised his son, in great detail, as to how he should best manage his finances to avoid such a problem in the future.

Though they lived in the same city and worked at the same institution, Peter corresponded often with his father, expressing relatively little concern about his finances and far more with the prospect of being called up for the draft. In June 1950, North Korea, aided by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea, where United States troops had been stationed since the ousting of Japanese occupation at the close of the Second World War. As hostilities in the Korean peninsula ramped up, Peter grew increasingly fearful of being called upon to serve.

The elder Pauling advised that his son request a deferment as a student of physics, which Peter sought and successfully attained. Part of Peter’s later motivation to spend some of his time as an undergraduate in London likewise emerged from his desire to avoid the draft for as long as possible. Peter felt that his enrollment as a student overseas would at least prolong his recruitment, whereas, if he remained at Caltech, he might he pulled in any day and waste his final undergraduate months in military training.


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Peter Pauling with his parents, 1949.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1951, Peter was involved in a serious car accident. The Pasadena Star News reported that, “While driving his father’s expensive 1949 sedan, Peter J. Pauling, 20, son of Linus Pauling, world-famed Caltech physicist, was injured in a spectacular traffic crash at Fair Oaks Avenue and Washington street.” The police report indicated that the Pauling car had been sideswiped by a Harry L. Nottingham, a 30-year old welder, at 2:11 AM.

The police jailed Nottingham overnight on a drunk driving charge, and Peter was treated at the emergency hospital for mild injuries to his head that had been sustained when his car flipped onto its roof after the impact. The accident happened less than a month before Peter was to leave California to spend his summer at a laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. His eventual departure back east left his parents quite literally picking up the pieces in his absence, as Peter had requested that they keep what remained of the vehicle to see what he could salvage.

His father later wrote to Peter while he was at Woods Hole, explaining that, even with compensation paid out by insurance and the drunk driver involved, the family would still, after legal fees, “come out a little bit in the hole from your use of the Lincoln that night.” Peter responded through his mother, writing “Please tell Daddy that I am sorry I ruined his car,” and asking that she remind him that, of the cars he could have wrecked that night, at least he chose the one that offered a barrier between his head and the road. The old Ford roadster was, after all, a convertible.


 

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Crellin, Linda, and Peter Pauling, 1952.

Peter’s stint at Woods Hole was both formative and crucial to his next steps. While there, he studied ion movement in nerves using sodium and potassium tracers in squid axons.  At the same time, Peter began seriously considering what institution to go to for graduate school, looking at Cambridge, among others. Fortuitously, John Kendrew, of Cambridge’s Cavendish Lab, was serving as a lecturer at Woods Hole and, unbeknownst to Peter, was recruiting for his protein structure research group.

Years later, Peter would recount that when Kendrew told Peter’s Woods Hole boss, David Nachmanson, that he had recruited him, Nachmanson replied, “What? That sex maniac?” Kendrew reportedly replied, “What does that matter?” In typical good humor, Peter offered that Kendrew had replied in this manner because he knew that being a “sex maniac” was an advantage at Cambridge. He later confessed, however, that his reputation was not well earned, admitting that he was likely “the most unsuccessful Don Juan in Woods Hole.”

While in Massachusetts, Peter was, in fact, pretty clearly agonizing over how to resolve his relationship with his college girlfriend, who remained in Pasadena. In his correspondence, Peter sometimes indicates a deep affection for his sweetheart, and at other times reveals significant doubt about any chance of a shared future.

It is entirely possible that the hot and cold nature of Peter’s feelings towards this woman were merely a reflection of a young man’s whimsies. It might also be argued that this was an early sign of a lifelong struggle with manic-depression that would come to plague Peter by the later stages of his graduate career at Cambridge. In any case, Peter’s beau was equally unsure. At times she seemed to favor the appraisal of her father, a high-ranking scientific adviser to the American military who was stationed in Europe. The father believed that marriage would prematurely end his daughter’s own academic ambitions and that, more broadly, Peter was bad news.

However, by the following summer of 1952 – just before Peter left for Cambridge – she had warmed to her boyfriend again. It was a summer of exploration; the two crossed the nation prior to the beginning of graduate school for Peter, travelling together to New York, Washington D.C., Princeton, and Long Island. Their romance seemed to burn brightly, if briefly, as Peter’s life in America drew to a close.

In the last few months before leaving the states, Peter and Crellin visited Hawaii, staying with their older brother Linus Jr, who lived there. Meanwhile, Linus and Ava Helen were engaged in world travels of their own, making lengthy stops in France and England. Peter wondered aloud if he would get the chance to see his parents upon his brief return to Pasadena, or if, instead, he would be gathering his belongings from an empty house, departing with the well wishes of Linda and Crellin, and setting out alone for Montreal, where he would board a ship to cross the Atlantic.

The exact circumstances of Peter’s bon voyage from southern California are unknown, but by September 1952, Peter was on his way to a new life in England.

 

Peter Pauling: The Early Years, 1931-1945

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Linus Pauling with his second-born son, Peter. 1931.

[Ed Note: Today we begin an in-depth examination of the life of Peter Pauling, the second child born to Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. This is part 1 of 9.]

Peter Jeffress Pauling was born on February 10, 1931. His middle name was given in honor of Lloyd Jeffress, his father’s childhood friend, fellow undergraduate at Oregon State (then the Oregon Agricultural College), and best man on his wedding day. Peter was the second born of the Pauling children. His older brother, Linus Pauling, Jr., was born in 1925, and Peter was joined swiftly by his younger sister Linda Helen in 1932 and, finally, by the baby of the bunch, Edward Crellin Pauling, in 1937.

In the early 1930s, everything seemed to be falling into place for the Pauling family. The same year that Peter was born, his father was promoted to full professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, where Linus had been since 1922, completing his doctorate the same year that Linus Jr. was born.

The growing family moved into a new home on Arden Road shortly before Peter’s birth, a transition that provided more space for the children and for their dog, Tyl Eulenspiegel, a cocker spaniel named after a German comic character. The year 1931 also marked Linus’ first published article on the nature of the chemical bond – work that would ultimately result in a Nobel Prize.

In the decade following Peter’s birth, his father was incredibly busy, giving fourteen guest lectures at Berkeley alone before Peter turned three. He also publishing his revolutionary structural chemistry research in a groundbreaking book, 1939’s The Nature of the Chemical Bond, a text authored while Pauling was in the midst of a series of nineteen non-resident lectures at Cornell.

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Ava Helen Pauling with her infant son, Peter. 1931.

By the time of the book’s publication, Linus Pauling was becoming a meteoric scientific figure, and as he began to travel more frequently, his wife Ava Helen would increasingly accompany him. During this period, the three youngest children – especially Linda and Crellin – were often in left in the care of a woman named Arletta Townsend, who became something of a second mother to them in their youth. The oldest child, Linus Jr., also shared in the care of his younger siblings from time to time, frequently trundling little Peter around the front yard in a child’s red wagon (perhaps an early indicator the boys’ shared love of automobiles that would bring them together later in life).

The older children also cared for the family rabbits, which their father raised at home for future use in his research. What was, for the children, a chore was also a reflection of Linus Pauling’s growing fascination with serology, hemoglobin, and the formation of antibodies and their interaction with antigens. As his investigations moved forward in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Pauling found it either impractical or inconvenient to arrange for his study animals to be housed and tended at Caltech. He opted instead to build roughly fifty rabbit hutches on his own property. While the elder Pauling inoculated the rabbits and carefully recorded physiological data, his boys were charged with feeding, watering, and keeping the hutches clean.

At this time, Peter seemed to have little in common with his older brother, outside of their shared chores around the house. Looking back, Linus Jr. would remember that most of their interaction was restricted to fighting over the bathroom. An argument over this space once became so heated, that it resulted in Linus Jr. splintering a door frame in the scrum.


 

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Peter Pauling with his father, 1937.

The United States’ entry into the Second World War touched the lives of all the Pauling children in different ways. In 1937, when Peter was six, an Army rifle range appeared on the other side of a canyon near the Pauling’s new home on Fairpoint Street. With this facility came a small group of Army guards, who would stand vigil near the Pauling’s property. Over time, the soldiers emerged as a social outlet for young Peter, who even as a child seemed to have a natural charm that often brought him rewards. For several years, Peter used the sentries as a means for procuring souvenirs and even stray military equipment. Many years later, much of this treasure could still be found in storage at the family ranch near Big Sur, California.

Not only was Peter charming, he was quite intelligent as well. From 1936 to 1941, Peter attended Polytechnic Elementary, a private school in Pasadena. A 1937 report on his performance included the comment that he was, “Not only a superior child in intelligence, but one of the cutest children we ever took into the school.” Two years later, the praise had only grown – one educator wrote that Peter “seems to be his Daddy’s own boy, and that is saying a great deal.”

From early on in her children’s lives, Ava Helen harbored ambitious ideas for the pursuits that they should entertain, and Peter was identified as the child most likely to succeed in a career in science, thus following in his father’s massive footsteps. Later in life, Linus himself would make passing insinuations about their potential as a father and son scientific duo, referencing the notable case of William and Lawrence Bragg, who shared the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on x-ray crystallography. Peter would later become well acquainted with Lawrence Bragg and his wife during his stint at Cambridge, a time period during which Peter had begun actively pursuing his own career in physics and chemistry.


 

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The Pauling family with their rabbits, 1941. Peter stands at left.

In 1941, after Peter had completed his fifth year at Polytechnic, Linus and Ava Helen concluded that their gifted son had started to lag academically. To provide for a more effective learning environment, the Paulings had Peter – now ten years old – enrolled at Flintridge Preparatory School in Pasadena. Flintridge was a school for boys where Peter would live in a dormitory, his days closely supervised and specifically structured according to a daily schedule that ran from 7 am to ‘lights out.’

At Flintridge, pupils were allotted one hour and forty five minutes of leisure time per day, with any other time not spent in class devoted to eating, completing chores, playing supervised sports or performing other physical exercises, or studying (also supervised).The school tailored its curriculum to the expectations of a student’s desired college or university, all with an eye toward insuring that the student would be best prepared to pass entrance exams or to enter a university without taking the exams at all. 

The school’s all encompassing tutelage embraced a three-fold training style that aimed to educate the mind, body, and the spirit, as evidenced by its motto, Vires Corpore Mente Spiritique. To chart the progress of the body, Peter’s performances in a range of physical activities – from running and high jump to shot put – were recorded and graphed over the course of the year. These data were then charted against an average representing the capacity of most boys his age, a practice referred to as a Physical Quotient plan. According to an informational pamphlet published by the school in 1941, Flintridge was the only school for young men in existence at the time that adhered to such a plan. The outcome, it promised, would be young men driven to develop their posture and muscle skills.

Once Peter was enrolled, his parents were issued monthly reports on their son’s progress, and to their pleasure, Peter’s schoolwork showed measurable improvement. Unfortunately, the decision to move Peter to Flintridge caused Polytechnic to withdraw its provision of scholarships for the remaining Pauling children. These scholarships had been provided with the contingency that the three eldest Pauling children attend the school, but with Linus Jr. completing his education at Polytechnic and Peter moving on to a different school, it was no longer deemed appropriate to provide a scholarship for Linda alone. As a result, young Linda Pauling was no longer able to attend private school at Polytechnic.


 

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Peter Pauling, 1943.

The summer months following Peter’s first year at Flintridge were spent, by Linus and Ava Helen, mostly abroad. As a result, the three youngest children were sent off to Camp Arcadia at Big Pines Park, California, while Linus Jr., now 16, was allowed to remain at home. While at camp, Linda became ill and had to be sent home a month early, leaving Peter and Crellin – from their perspective – stranded at the camp and feeling homesick. Linus Jr. wrote to Peter at this time, urging him to appreciate the time away from the mundane concerns of the Pauling home, including the return of parental discipline. “They’ve found all the things I didn’t do and should have done, and all the things I did do and shouldn’t have done,” Linus Jr. wryly confessed to his younger brother.

In 1943, when Peter was 12, Linus and Ava Helen received letters from his teachers at Flintridge explaining that Peter’s ability to excel seemed increasingly beset by an inability to focus on his work. The staff believed that Peter, like many intelligent children, was not being challenged enough academically, and that in his boredom he preferred to spend his time socializing rather than studying.

Perhaps only coincidentally, this was the same year that Peter’s older brother turned eighteen and left home for Berkeley. While Peter was being groomed in hopes that he might emerge as the next genius of the family, his older brother, Linus Jr., deliberately turned away from any such prospect as he entered adulthood, eventually abandoning college aspirations altogether and joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Scenes from the 2016 Pauling Legacy Award Event

A full house gathered at the Oregon Historical Society Museum last week to hear Dr. Jane Lubchenco deliver her 2016 Linus Pauling Legacy Award address, “Scientists Making Waves and Bringing Hope.”

In her presentation, which is available online here, Lubchenco detailed a collection of scientific activities and policy initiatives that are helping to rehabilitate the world’s fisheries and that inspire optimism for the health of our oceans moving forward.

Lubchenco’s talk focused in particular on the positive impact that the implementation of Rights-Based fisheries management policies have made in promoting sustainable fishing practices world-wide. In addition, the creation of marine reserves and the formation of international agreements to more strictly police and prosecute illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, have fostered, in Lubchenco’s view, an increasingly stable marine environment in which the ocean’s bounty might be rehabilitated and used more widely.

A few images from a memorable evening are included below.

[All photos by Mike Dicianna.]

The Pauling Medal Awardees

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Lucile Jenkins (Pauling’s sister), Linus Pauling and Ava Helen Pauling at the Pauling Medal ceremony, 1967.

[Part 2 of 2]

Ten years into the history of the Linus Pauling Medal, the two American Chemical Society sections that sponsored the award – the Puget Sound section and the Oregon section – decided to edit and modernize their nominating process for the 1976 presentation. Essentially, the sections sought to streamline their process and improve ease of comparison by requiring that nomination packets for each nominee be submitted in the same format, and that specific types of information be included for every individual under consideration.

The 1976 nomination round also included a ramped up discussion of including more women among the pool of nominees, though in fifty years still only one female has received the medal. Caltech’s Jacqueline K. Barton, the Pauling Medal awardee for 2007, is likewise the first female recipient of a number of other prestigious decorations in chemistry, including the National Medal of Science and the Priestley Medal. Barton is also married to a fellow Pauling Medal winner, Peter Dervan, who received the prize eight years before his wife.

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Pauling, Edward Barnes, Henry Eyring, and two unidentified individuals at the ceremony honoring Eyring as Pauling Medalist for 1969.

At a meeting held in June 1977, the two sponsoring sections discussed a further major change: adding the support of the Portland ACS section to the nominating and awarding committees. Though the benefits of including a third organizational body to absorb the logistical work and the costs of the event were evident to all involved, it was agreed that the three sections would need to wait six more years before Portland could be included, specifically because six medals had already been cast bearing the joint sponsorship of the Puget Sound and Oregon sections. Another six years would also give the three committees plenty of time to work out any kinks that might arise through the addition of another section to the nominating and awarding process.

As it happened, it actually took longer than six years to jointly award the medal across all three sections. The Portland group finally came aboard as a formal awarding body in 1987, at which point the medal was presented in the Rose City every third year, beginning in 1989.


 

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Dudley Herschbach, Seymour Rabinovitch, Rudolph Marcus, Ahmed Zewail and William H. Miller at the Pauling Medal ceremonies honoring Marcus in 1992. Herschbach, Marcus and Zewail are all Nobel Chemistry laureates.

Over the course of its fifty years, the Linus Pauling Medal has been bestowed upon an accomplished group of scientists, most of whom have received other top awards in the field of chemistry broadly as well as a variety of decorations in their areas of specialization.  Over a third of the Pauling recipients have also won the Priestley Medal, which is the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society and typically recognizes a lifetime of achievement. Likewise, over half of the Pauling Medal roster has received the National Medal of Science – the highest award that a scientist can receive from the United States government – and more than a quarter are Nobel laureates.

Unsurprisingly, the Pauling Medal list includes a great number of chemists who were close colleagues of and, in some cases, collaborators with the award’s namesake. Several of Pauling’s former graduate students and post-docs are also sprinkled throughout.

Here are the fifty recipients of the Linus Pauling Medal:

  • 1966: Linus Pauling, Staff Member, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions
  • 1967: Manfred Eigen, Director, Max Planck –Institute for Physical Chemistry, Gottingen, Germany
  • 1968: Herbert C. Brown, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Purdue University
  • 1969: Henry Eyring, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Chemistry, University of Utah
  • 1970: Harold C. Urey, Professor at Large, University of California at San Diego
  • 1971: Gerhard Herzberg, Division of Pure Physics, National Research Council of Canada
  • 1972: E. Bright Wilson, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University
  • 1973: E. J. Corey, Professor of Organic Chemistry, Harvard University
  • 1974: Roald Hoffman, Professor of Chemistry, Cornell University
  • 1975: Paul Bartlett, Professor of Chemistry, Texas Christian University
  • 1976: F. Albert Cotton, Professor of Chemistry, Texas A & M University
  • 1977: John A. Pople, Professor of Chemical Physics, Carnegie-Mellon University
  • 1978: Dudley Herschbach, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University
  • 1979: Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., Professor of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley
  • 1980: John D. Roberts, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 1981: Henry Taube, Professor of Chemistry, Stanford University
  • 1982: George C. Pimental, Professor of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley
  • 1983: Gilbert Stork, Professor of Chemistry, Columbia University
  • 1984: John S. Waugh, Professor of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1985: Harold A. Scheraga, Professor of Chemistry, Cornell University
  • 1986: Harry B. Gray, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 1987: Harden M. McConnell, Professor of Chemistry, Stanford University
  • 1988: Keith Ingold, Associate Director of the Division of Chemistry, National Research Council of Canada
  • 1989: Neil Bartlett, Professor of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley
  • 1990: James P. Collman, Professor of Chemistry, Stanford University
  • 1991: Rudolph A. Marcus, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 1992: Kenneth Wiberg, Professor of Chemistry, Yale University
  • 1993: Richard Zare, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, Stanford University
  • 1994: James Ibers, Professor of Chemistry, Northwestern University
  • 1995: Alexander Rich, Professor of Biophysics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1996: Kyriacos C. Nicolaou, Professor of Chemical Biology, Scripps Research Institute
  • 1997: Ahmed H. Zewail, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, California Institute of Technology
  • 1998: Allen J. Bard, Professor of Chemistry, University of Texas at Austin
  • 1999: Peter B. Dervan, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 2000: Gabor A. Somorjai, Professor of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley
  • 2001: Tobin J. Marks, Professor of Catalytic Chemistry, Northwestern University
  • 2002: John I. Brauman, Professor of Chemistry, Stanford University
  • 2003: Robert H. Grubbs, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 2004: Martin Karplus, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University
  • 2005: George Whitesides, University Professor, Harvard University
  • 2006: Peter J. Stang, Professor of Chemistry, University of Utah
  • 2007: Jacqueline K. Barton, Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
  • 2008: Thomas C. Bruice, Research Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • 2009: Stephen J. Lippard, Professor of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 2010: Armand Paul Alivisatos, Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering, and Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California at Berkeley
  • 2011: Larry R. Dalton, Professor of Chemistry and Electrical Engineering, University of Washington
  • 2012: Robert Cava, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University
  • 2013: Chad Mirkin, Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Medicine, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly, Northwestern University
  • 2014: Stephen Buchwald, Professor of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 2015: Barry M. Trost, Professor of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University

Fifty Years of the Linus Pauling Medal

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[Ed Note: With the awarding of the ninth Linus Pauling Legacy Award to Dr. Jane Lubchenco scheduled for next Tuesday, we thought this an appropriate time to take a look at the first award to have been named for Linus Pauling; one that turns fifty years old in 2016. This is part 1 of 2.]

Though Linus Pauling was a much celebrated and well-respected scientist across the globe, he traced his roots to the Pacific Northwest and always felt a special connection to the region. It would seem fitting then that the first award to bear his name would come from the area.

In a letter dated December 9, 1965, Pauling first learned that two regional sections of the American Chemical Society – the Puget Sound Section and the Oregon Section – were collaborating on a new award that would bear his name. The Linus Pauling Medal would be granted each year, beginning in 1966. Quite appropriately, the two sections asked that Pauling be the first recipient of the honor.

The Pauling Medal would replace the former Puget Sound Award (given, as one might assume, by the Puget Sound Section) and would “recognize distinguished achievement in chemistry.”  Furthermore, though the interests of Pacific Northwest scientists would play a role in deciding who received the decoration, the nomination criteria made it clear that this was not specifically a regional award:

A nominee shall have made outstanding contributions to chemistry of a character that have merited national and international recognition and that are of particular interest to chemists of this geographical area.

Indeed, though two ACS sections sponsored the award, its nomination guidelines specified that recipients need not reside within the geographical regions represented by the two sponsors. And though the medal was named for him, Pauling did not think it proper for him to be involved with deliberations concerning recipients, and he accordingly refused to nominate anyone or offer a letter of endorsement for those nominated by others.

The award itself consists of a gold medal engraved with Pauling’s profile, crowned with the text “Linus Pauling Medal,” and also including the names of the (now three – the Portland ACS section joined the award in the 1980s) sponsoring ACS sections. The awardee’s name and the date that it is bestowed are engraved on the back of the medal, accompanied by the text “for outstanding achievement in chemistry.” The medal is accompanied by a scroll.

In its early years, the Pauling Medal was granted at a ceremony hosted alternately by the two sponsoring sections, with the Oregon section usually rotating its turns between venues at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.  The ceremony itself generally consisted of a meeting featuring a keynote address by the recipient and ancillary lectures as delivered by other distinguished chemists. The event concluded with a celebratory banquet. The ongoing costs of the award, including travel and meeting expenses, were split between the two sections.


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By design, the nomination process established for the Pauling Medal had the potential to be long and complicated, involving several rounds of voting until a consensus was reached on one awardee.  And from the beginning, the goal for each year has been to generate a minimum of ten nominations to be considered by the award committee, with a preferred pool of twenty possibilities.

Compiling this pool required the cooperation of both a canvasing committee and an award selection committee.  The canvassing committee’s job was to solicit nominations, meet at the Northwest Regional meeting to review the names that had been received, organize them for evaluation by the award selection committee, and recommend any changes to procedure that might help out in the future. The call for nominations went out early in the calendar year, so as to allow for enough time to vet potential awardees and to find a ceremony date that was mutually agreeable.

At first, the canvassing committee expressed a preference for older candidates who, like Pauling, had remained creative and continued to make important advancements in their specific field.  As the award developed and its standards became more concrete, the goal shifted to presenting the award to a chemist whose career would clearly benefit from the decoration, which usually meant concentrating on younger nominees (as was Pauling’s wish).

Once the canvassing group had done its job, the final selection was made by an award committee comprised of five members: two from each sponsoring section and a chair selected from alternating sections. In addition to the pool developed by the canvassing committee, the awarding group could add names of their own.

The criteria for selection were very flexible, with only two strict conditions placed: 1) no member of the canvassing or awarding committees could be considered and 2) a candidate could not be awarded the Pauling Medal for the same achievements that had led to their receipt of a Nobel Prize. Rather, consideration for the Pauling Medal would be based entirely on new and innovative work.


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Linus Pauling received the first Linus Pauling Medal on December 3, 1966 at a celebration held in Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. His acceptance talk was titled “Science as a Way of Life,” and made mention of the insect collections that he compiled as a boy, a few scientific mishaps that he encountered during his career and, in particular, his struggles in determining the molecular structure of sodium dicadmide. He also included the now famous story of how he determined the alpha-helical structure of proteins while folding paper as he was sitting sick in bed.

In addition to Pauling’s lecture, the first Pauling Medal event included talks by Neil Bartlett, Martin Karplus, and Joseph Kraut. Bartlett would later receive the Pauling Medal himself in 1989 and Karplus – the 2013 Nobel Chemistry laureate – was likewise honored in 2004.

Having traveled to Oregon for the event, Linus and Ava Helen took advantage of their visit to drive down to Corvallis to meet with chemistry students and to speak as part of a convocation at Oregon State University. Following their time in Portland, they headed north to Spokane, Washington, where Linus gave a talk at Gonzaga University. From there they went to Seattle where they saw one of Ava Helen’s brothers and gave yet another lecture, this time at the University of Washington.

In the years that followed, the Paulings attended the Pauling Medal ceremonies as often as they could, participating more frequently as time went on. When Pauling was able to make it, he was recognized as a guest of honor of the sponsoring sections and would typically say a few words in praise of the awardee. In years when he was unable to attend the ceremony, Pauling would usually send a letter of congratulations to the awardee.  He continued to attend the event long after Ava Helen’s death in 1981, making an appearance virtually every year until his own health started to decline in the early 1990s.

 

 

A Book that Never Was: Pauling’s “Fighting for Peace and Freedom”

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Pauling’s proposed chapter outline of “Fighting for Peace and Freedom,” October 31, 1960.

In 1960 Linus Pauling faced a severe test when he was called before two hearings held by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) and asked to provide a detailed account of the circulation of the United Nations bomb test petition that he and his wife, Ava Helen, sponsored in 1957 and 1958.  The SISS subcommittee was similar in its purview to the more widely known House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had supported similar efforts in the past.

The Paulings’ petition started out in the United States as an “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” but as publicity grew, it found an international audience as well.  The petition was submitted to the UN during the heart of the Cold War, and Pauling was called before SISS two years later because some committee members believed the petition to be in alignment with potential communist objectives, mostly because the document did not align with strategies being pursued by the United States military at the time.

Pauling was subpoenaed in June 1960 and, once seated before the committee, was asked to provide the names of all individuals who helped to circulate the bomb test petition across the globe. Pauling refused this request, believing that those who had provided their support to the petitioning effort should not be exposed to the same types of investigations that he was presently facing. Pauling was subpoenaed again in October of that year, and although he was threatened with contempt of Congress, once again he did not reveal the names of his colleagues. By this point, much of the mainstream media was beginning to lean in Pauling’s direction, and the SISS ultimately decided to back off its demands. And so it was that, after a very tense summer, Pauling wound up avoiding legal consequences.


"Dr. Pauling Refuses Senators' Demand for Names of A-Ban Group", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1960.

Though he had managed to sidestep legal jeopardy, the SISS experience was an especially bitter one for Pauling. After the first hearing, Pauling was so angry that he briefly considered running for president, seeing no other viable corrective to what he viewed to be an absence of leadership in his country. While this idea quickly passed, Pauling was still moved to action, and during his participation in the second SISS hearing, he made a decision to write a book about his experiences in Congress.  He would title it, Fighting for Peace and Freedom.

Pauling believed that his proposed book would be of interest to a wide readership and would also be a contribution to the public good. He detailed these sentiments in a book proposal that he addressed to August Frugé, director of the University of California Press, on October 4, 1960.  In it, he wrote

I have formed the opinion that people are interested enough in it to be willing to read a book about it, and I plan to begin writing this book.  The book will contain some background material about nuclear war, nuclear tests, the bomb-test petition, and the efforts that I have been making about these matters, and also it will contain an account of my hearing and of legal action in relation to the Internal Security Subcommittee.

Pauling also pointed out that there was precedence for a book of this sort. Specifically, he wanted to model his narrative after Philip Wittenberg’s 1957 publication, The Lamont Case: History of a Congressional Investigation, Corliss Lamont and the McCarthy Hearings, which chronicled Lamont’s appearance before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Corliss Lamont

Lamont was an American philosopher and advocate of left-wing and civil liberties causes who frequently clashed with political figures and the CIA during his long life. He was called to testify at McCarthy’s infamous hearings in 1953, during which he denied ever being a Communist, but refused to get into specifics, citing the legal protections provided by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The legal proceedings that arose from his hearing dragged on for two more years and, though Lamont was never formally identified as a communist, he continued to butt heads with the government for several years following.

Using Wittenberg’s book as his model, Pauling proposed that Fighting for Peace and Freedom consist of twelve chapters that would describe the case, present legal documents and a complete transcript of the two hearings, and also include several contextual chapters relating to the whole affair. Pauling felt that it would be useful for readers to have easy access to all this information and, indeed, that it should be made readily available to the public.

The twelve chapter titles that Pauling put forward were as follows:

  1. The Life of a Scientist
  2. The Bomb-Test Petition
  3. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee
  4. My First Hearing—Morning Session
  5. My First Hearing—Afternoon Session
  6. I Go to Court
  7. News Accounts, Editorials, and Advertisements
  8. My Second Hearing—Morning Session
  9. My Second Hearing—Afternoon Session
  10. Senator Dodd’s Crusade
  11. Misuse of Power by Congressional Committees
  12. Peace, Freedom, and Morality

In its proposed form, the book would be lengthy – Pauling put the estimate at about 440 pages, of which roughly 80 would be appendices.  However, he believed he could potentially trim the project down by 10% if need be, without loss of coherence in his argument.  Despite the length of the text and his unrelenting schedule, Pauling hoped to have the manuscript ready to go as soon as possible and aimed to have copy ready to be set in type by December 13, 1960.

Pauling also took pains to point out that Fighting for Peace and Freedom was not going to be a scholarly study; rather, it would be written in an intimate and personal manner.  Furthermore, as Pauling explained to the University of California Press’ Los Angeles editor, Robert Y. Zachary, the writing would be “restrained, and perhaps even to make use occasionally of understatements.” Zachary and August Frugé, director of the press, were both interested in the project and looked forward to reading the manuscript once Pauling had it completed.

As it turned out, California was not the only press that was interested in pursuing Pauling’s newest book. Pauling also approached Cornell, a university press with a known predilection for printing works that dealt with issues concerning civil rights.  Cornell, which had also published Pauling’s monumental Nature of the Chemical Bond beginning in 1939, was also interested in reading the manuscript when it was ready.

Despite these favorable responses and his own initial vigor in pursuing the project, Pauling never completed the manuscript; indeed, there is no indication that he ever even started it. There is no obvious indication as to what happened, although it would seem likely that the very cluttered nature of his calendar halted any momentum in its tracks. Pauling’s letter to Zachary was mailed on November 2, 1960 and proposed a December 13 deadline.  During that span of less than one and a half months, Pauling made trips to Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Washington, British Columbia, and Illinois.

Amidst this heavy press of work, one might suppose that, just as with his aborted interest in pursuing the presidency, Pauling’s zest for writing the book started to flag, and by the end of the year, the story of Pauling’s appearance before the SISS had increasingly become old news.  As such, it remains for us today to continue wondering exactly how he would have characterized his Congressional hearings in the larger fight for peace and freedom.

 

A Funny Story from Andy Warhol

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Linus Pauling, Jill Sackler, and Andy Warhol in New York, November 21, 1985. The Linus Pauling Medal for Humanitarianism was presented to Arthur Sackler that evening.

As recorded by Warhol in his diary:

Thursday, November 21, 1985

…the Sacklers were doing this thing at the Metropolitan Club and I was figuring out who to bring, and I should have brought Dr. Li, I guess, because I wound up sitting with Dr. Linus Pauling, but I brought Paige and she had a really good time…

So cabbed to the Metropolitan Club ($5). And there’s Paige sitting downstairs in the hallway. Those horrible doormen there wouldn’t let her in because she didn’t have a fur coat! …

And Dr. Pauling took my arm, he was getting an award. Upstairs I was next to Jill Sackler, across from Martha Graham, and Jill said, ‘Martha’s been dying to meet Linus Pauling for years and now she’s next to him and doesn’t know it.’

I met a man who said he invented vitamin B or C.

And Dr. Pauling was telling us that the only real killer is sugar, and then Paige and I were dumbfounded later when they brought dessert and he sat there eating all these cookies….

This brings to mind one of our favorite Pauling anecdotes, which he told in 1987, as well as one rather unfortunate photograph, which we couldn’t resist sharing below.

Usually I eat two eggs in the morning, sometimes bacon, but I happen to be lazy enough not to cook more than one thing for a meal. The last two days I was eating oxtail soup with vegetables. I don’t know what I’ll have today. Perhaps some fish. In my book [How to Live Longer and Feel Better] I say you shouldn’t eat sweet desserts, but I also quote a professor who says that this doesn’t mean that if your hostess has made this wonderful dessert you should turn it down. My wife used to say I always looked for that hostess.

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Caught in the act.

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