The Pauling-Teller Debate: Two Books That Followed

nuclear-future

Our Nuclear Future: Facts, Dangers and Opportunities. 1958.

[Part 4 of 5]

In the months following their televised 1958 debate, Linus Pauling and Edward Teller both published books that they believed would serve to educate the public on the real dangers associated with atomic development and testing.  And though their formal debate had long since passed, both men continued to spar with one another through their writings. As Ralph E. Lapp put it in his review of Pauling’s book,

Any meaningful review of Mr. Pauling’s No More War! must be related not only to the U.N. Report on Atomic Radiation but also Mr. Teller’s Our Nuclear Future published earlier this year.  As a matter of fact, No More War! might well be subtitled ‘A Reply to Edward Teller.’

Each book worked hard to couch its arguments in terms that readers, no matter their background, could understand.  Both books also sought to help citizens differentiate between “imaginary dangers,” “risks which are more real,” and risks that had been most neglected.  The two books likewise made use of Cold War fears over a potential war with the Soviet Union and pointed out that a future war of this sort would be far worse than anything experienced to date. In this, just as had been the case with their television appearance, Pauling and Teller alike used similar approaches to argue for very different points of view: Pauling emphasizing the need for disarmament and cooperation, Teller arguing in favor of peace assured through military might.


"No More War!" 1958.

“No More War!” 1958.

A primary goal of Edward Teller and Albert Latter’s book, Our Nuclear Future: Facts, Dangers and Opportunities, was to outline the science behind the development of nuclear weapons, as articulated for a lay audience. Teller felt a book of this sort was the best way to combat rising fear in the culture, and that it would allow readers to both understand the nature of radioactivity and to rationally assess the risks (relatively benign ones, in Teller’s view) posed by nuclear tests.

Conversely, throughout his book, No More War!, Linus Pauling discussed the harm that would befall current and future generations as a direct result of continued nuclear testing.  He also emphasized the idea of a single global community and the need to think responsibly about the entire world. This approach is clear from the outset, as Pauling writes in his preface

We are living through that unique epoch in the history of civilization when war will cease to be the means of settling great world problems…It is the development of great nuclear weapons that requires that war be given up, for all time…that from the giant of the kiloton nuclear bomb to the megaton monster…we can see for ourselves that our own future and the future of the human race depend upon our willingness and ability to cooperate, to work together in a worldwide attack on the great world problems.

Pauling’s emphasis on the need for humanity to remain united and to work together courses through the entire book.


Figure comparing estimates of wordwide fallout, as included in No More War!

Figure comparing estimates of wordwide fallout, as included in No More War!

Indeed, increases in the mutation rate and the threats that they posed to the human race comprised Pauling’s central argument in favor of ceasing nuclear tests.  Pauling believed that there was no safe threshold amount of radiation that a person could receive; any amount could prove harmful and potentially lead to leukemia, bone cancer, or other diseases linked to radiation. Conceptualized in this way, radiation was likened by Pauling as something worse than a poison.  For Pauling, a person could not receive a small, harmless dose of radiation like they could with certain poisons that are only dangerous in large quantities taken at one time.  Rather, radiation is a cumulative toxin and the lower values measured as fallout from nuclear tests were potentially just as damaging as high exposures, just not as immediately apparent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Teller downplayed the risks of fallout, basing his argument on the fact that environmental radiation is nothing new.  On the contrary, it has existed since the beginning of the Earth, meaning that every human, plant, and animal in existence is subjected daily to radioactivity and always has been and always will be.  In formulating his argument, Teller placed additional emphasis on the number of ways that environmental radiation can be taken up by the body and how geographic location influences these processes.  He also stressed that radiation could be acquired from seemingly trivial man-made sources as well, sources that most people thought little about.  Teller stated these man-made sources, such as medical x-rays or even wristwatches with illuminated hands, were more harmful than was the radioactivity from testing fallout.


Pauling's annotated copy of  Our Nuclear Future, with a New York Times review of the book tipped in.

Pauling’s annotated copy of Our Nuclear Future, with “a very poor” New York Times review of the book tipped in.

In writing No More War!, one of Pauling’s major objectives was to dispel any notion that there was wide disagreement among scientists as to the actual effects of radiation on humans. In doing so, he pointedly sought to discredit Teller and the Atomic Energy Commission as holding fringe opinions. When discussing Teller, he was especially critical, not only of his calculations and scientific acumen, but also of his views on democracy and education of the citizenry, views which Pauling claimed to be “out of place.”

Partly to combat increasing fears about environmental radioactivity, Teller suggested ramping up research and development of so-called “clean weapons” – i.e., weapons that did not produce radioactive fallout upon detonation. Teller believed clean weapons to be necessary and potentially very useful for purposes far beyond application in war.  A clean weapon might be used, for instance, to build a harbor.  Throughout Our Nuclear Future, Teller is clear in his advocacy of developing new weapons and testing them to make sure that they work.

Pauling strongly disagreed with Teller’s ideas concerning the development of a clean bomb, which Teller identified as a top reason why testing needed to continue.  Pauling likewise took offense at the use of the word “clean,” pointing out that so-called clean weapons still held the potential to kill millions of innocent people.  Furthermore, these new weapons were only promoting the culture of continued testing and thus, further radioactive fallout.


Though neither Our Nuclear Future nor No More War! pretended to be a cool analysis of fact, both used similar techniques, often based in scientific analysis, to try and persuade readers toward one of two very different points of view.  Both books also might be viewed as an extension of the debate that had been televised between Pauling and Teller in February 1958, with the two scientists continuing to jockey for position through a different public forum.

And while it is clear that Pauling and Teller were never going to agree on the fundamental nuclear issues of the time, both of their books made an impact. The New York Times placed both volumes on its list of outstanding books for the year and, in a different article, named both as among the necessary books with which to acquaint oneself in seeking to understand the nuclear debate.

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Coming Face-to-Face

 

Linus Pauling debating Edward Teller on the topic of nuclear fallout: “The Nuclear Bomb Tests…Is Fallout Overrated?” KQED-TV, San Francisco. February 20, 1958.

[Part 3 of 5]

An informed citizen is a good citizen.  This was a belief held by both Linus Pauling and Edward Teller.  As scientists the two likewise believed that the information they presented to the public must be specific and stripped of rhetoric. On the same token, it was also their obligation to spell out to the public their sense of the threats that loomed during the Cold War and to motivate their audience to respond to those threats. Perhaps most importantly, both men believed it imperative that the information that they provided be up-to-date and reflective of the idea that science is the most reliable source of information for the public.

In many respects then, Pauling and Teller were operating from principles that would seem to have been very close to one another. That the two men would present such differing viewpoints from such a similar basis of belief is illustrative of the confusion that prevailed in American society concerning fallout and nuclear weapons at the time of the Pauling-Teller debate.


The one and only televised debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller was held in San Francisco on February 20, 1958, and broadcast live by KQED television, a public broadcasting station located in the city. From the get-go, Pauling had a hard time.

As the debate commenced, Pauling opened with a plea to prevent nuclear war, and emphasized the pressing need that prevention start now.  Pauling’s speech was stilted and awkward though, and he stumbled over his words despite appearing to have been well-rehearsed.  For whatever reason, in his opening statement, Pauling did not come across like a man who was used to speaking in front of others about these ideas, although he gradually appeared more relaxed as the debate progressed.

Edward Teller and Linus Pauling with members of the media and a television crew at their 1958 debate.

Teller also began his opening statement in a staccato cadence similar to that used by his opponent, though he quickly warmed up to the audience and began to speak more candidly.  Teller also succeeded in letting his emotions show more clearly than did Pauling. Although this is not how most scientists of the era would think to present themselves, the display of emotions likely came across as more appealing to the debate audience.

One of the main points that Pauling tried to emphasize in the debate was that the cessation of nuclear development and testing would require the agreement of many people, both inside and outside of the U.S.  Pauling called for a collective effort “to solve international disputes by the application of man’s power of reason in a way that is worthy of the dignity of man.” He went on:

We must solve them by arbitration, negotiation, the development of international law, the making of international agreements that will do justice to all nations and to all peoples and will benefit all nations and all people

This process naturally would require large amounts of work on behalf of many people. Indeed, in order to achieve peace and stability, Pauling argued that levels of resources equivalent to those committed to create nuclear weapons needed to be expended in support of coming to an agreement. A commitment, in other words, “comparable to that of the forty billion dollars a year that we put into armaments.”  Pauling also pointed out that the Soviets had already proposed a cessation in nuclear weapons testing and an end to weapons stockpiling, so neither idea was too radical or forward thinking.

A lasting agreement would also have to transcend political systems.  Pauling saw no problems with coming to terms with the Soviet Union, or any other nation, regardless of politics and policies.  On the contrary, he believed “that we need to have different kinds of political systems…[and] that the way to settle the problem of the differences is not to kill off most of the people in the world, or a large fraction of the people in the world with these terrible nuclear weapons.”

Though Pauling mostly spoke in positive and inclusive tones, he often strayed from this approach to criticize Teller, at times going line-by-line through one or another of Teller’s articles. And while an important part of Pauling’s strategy appears to have been to attack Teller’s previous public statements, he failed to expand beyond this tactic to address certain of the larger issues at hand, such as radioactive fallout or a nuclear weapons test ban.


bio6.007.084

San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1958.

As the debate moved forward, it was Teller who became more and more precise on the topic of harm from fallout, though this would seem to have been a point of rhetoric favoring Pauling’s point of view. It was at this point that Teller was able to take firm command of the proceedings. As he outlined his arguments, he did not try to discredit or attack Pauling, but instead worked to align himself with his opponent by focusing on their similarities instead of their differences, by characterizing their differences as misconceptions, and by emphasizing the ambiguities in the data they were both using.

Conversely, throughout the evening Pauling painted Teller as a warmonger, quoting him as saying “we must meet the Russians wherever they choose to attack.”  Pauling interpreted this statement as an expression of need to prepare for nuclear war. Teller countered that he supported the development of a wide range of weapons as a means to stave off any possibility of attack.  If the U.S. had developed weapons to deal with any possible scenario, Teller’s logic went, the Soviets would be too afraid to ever attack.

Teller also argued that no one could possibly know for sure what potential harm might arise from nuclear weapons tests, a counterpoint diametrically opposed from Pauling’s dire warnings of negative health impacts from radioactive fallout. Teller pointed out that nuclear weapons had not been around long enough for adequate research to be conducted and that, just as researchers were only then starting to evaluate the results of industrialization, only time would tell what to make of the nuclear age.

For Teller, the threat of a potential attack was a bigger deterrent to a test ban than were the possible threats of continued testing. Likewise, as its military strength improved, the U.S. would become stronger and the world more stable.  Teller agreed with Pauling’s position that the world needed to strive for peace based on mutual understanding.  However, as Teller put it

Peace based on force buys us the necessary time. And in this time we can work for better understanding, for closer collaboration, first with the countries which are closest to us, which we understand better, our allies, the Western countries, the NATO countries, which believe in human liberties as we do.  Then, as soon as possible, with the rest of the free world, and eventually, I hope, with the whole world, including Russia, even though it may take years to come.

Teller concluded the debate by reflecting on the situation in his native Hungary, his own love of liberty, and his belief that continued testing was an exercise of democratic freedom.  His very last line, “I am talking for my freedom, for his [Pauling’s] freedom, and for the freedom of all of us,” emphasized the collective nature of his stance.  So ended the televised debate between Pauling and Teller, but their public engagement with one another was far from concluded.

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Speaking Science to the Public

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in Westlake Park. Beverly Hills, California. 1960.

[Part 2 of 5]

The debate over development versus disarmament of nuclear weapons was not black and white during the Cold War era. For both arguments pro and con, there existed many gray areas that both Edward Teller and Linus Pauling – standard bearers for pro and con respectively – wished to clarify for the sake of the public, as they both felt that the government was not delineating nuclear issues as clearly as it should.

Numerous government agencies were established beginning in the 1940s to investigate all manner of nuclear issues, from reactors to fallout. These agencies, though all part of the apparatus of the federal government, often disagreed with one another and offered differing findings to the public. This extra layer of confusion created an additional obstacle with which both Pauling and Teller were forced to contend in their encounters with the public and with each other.  The ways in which they interpreted and presented the data differed markedly from one another and only served to heighten the conflict between the two men as the date of their televised debate approached.


Linus Pauling became involved in the anti-nuclear movement at an early point in its history. Less than two months after the atomic attack on Hiroshima, he wrote to a friend:

I feel that, in addition to our professional activities in the nuclear field, we should make our voices known with respect to the political significance of science.

Indeed, this was a principle that would guide much of Pauling’s activity for the remainder of his life.

In speaking out against nuclear testing and weapons proliferation, Pauling was not arguing against the scientific research that scientists had completed per se, but instead focused his criticism on how the research was handled, applied and furthered. “I deny that scientists have been guilty in making their discoveries,” he wrote. “They have, however, failed in some part to do their duty as citizens.”

As the U.S. amped up its program of nuclear tests, Pauling began to speak out more forcefully against the government’s behavior, arguing that its actions were devastating international relations and that peace could never be achieved in a world with nuclear weapons.

Although Pauling was well-versed in many scientific disciplines, as he became more deeply involved in the peace movement he quickly found that his grasp of international relations was far less strong.  It took him only one poorly planned and unconvincing speech, delivered in 1945, to realize that he would need to devote far more effort toward researching nuclear issues before he could be considered an expert.  Reflecting in the 1980s on this incident – “an episode that would change my life” – he recalled his wife Ava Helen telling him,

I think that you should stop giving lectures about atomic bombs, war, and peace.  When you talk about a scientific subject you speak very effectively and convincingly… But when you talk about the nature of war and the need for peace, you are not convincing, because you give the audience the impression that you are not sure about what you are saying and that you are relying on other authorities.

Spurred to action, Pauling began to pore over newspapers and dedicated himself to arguing for disarmament for the rest of his life, spending half of his time on these issues and no longer devoting his “whole-hearted efforts in teaching science and carrying on scientific research.”


Teller's Los Alamos identification badge, ca. 1943.

Teller’s Los Alamos identification badge, ca. 1943.

It took Edward Teller longer to involve himself directly in politics. And from the outset his position was more convoluted than was Pauling’s, though in some respects, he and Pauling did not broadly differ in their points of view.

Unlike Pauling, Teller was directly connected to the work conducted at Los Alamos that resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb.  He argued that this work was crucial to ending the threat of the Axis powers during World War II.  But despite his pro-nuclear stance, he agreed with Pauling’s position that scientists should facilitate discussion of nuclear issues and that they bore a responsibility to disseminate knowledge of nuclear science.  Like Pauling, Teller saw that scientists were too often underrepresented in nuclear discussions and he believed that their voices needed to be heard.

Teller likewise believed that there needed to be better communication between those who were conducting science and those who made nuclear policy decisions.  He also felt that the power to make decisions about nuclear affairs should not be held solely by government officials, but rather should involve the public as well. For Teller, the U.S. government would ideally exist as a vehicle to deliver the wishes of its people.  Ultimately, the public, scientists, and politicians needed to work together to come to an educated decision that aligned with what the people desired.

Of course, Teller’s views on the morality of nuclear weapons differed completely from Pauling’s anti-nuclear stance. In keeping with his position on the role of government, Teller wrote

It is not the scientist’s job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used. This responsibility rests with the American people and with their chosen representatives.

This noted, Teller personally believed that the only way to pursue continued peace was to guarantee that a nuclear war
would never break out, which meant that continued development and innovation was necessary. He likewise felt that virtually every situation required its own unique weapon, and these could only be developed through continued testing. Doing so would also insure that a portion of the American nuclear arsenal would remain viable and in close proximity in case of an attack, and guaranteed that the Soviet Union would not benefit from making the first strike in a nuclear war.

Later in life, in his memoirs, Teller emphasized his belief in this point, writing

Since the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have served their purpose extremely well. That purpose is deterrence. The hydrogen bomb, it should be remembered, has never been used in combat and there is reason to hope that it never will be…Yet, following World War II, I knew of no one in nuclear weapons research
who did not believe that the purpose of his or her work was to prevent the use of such weapons by assuring the strength of our deterrent forces.


teller-time

Public discussion of nuclear testing reached a crescendo in 1954 with the Bikini Atoll tests and again in 1957 when distress over the potential dangers of continued testing was inflamed by the launch of Sputnik.  The successful launch of the Sputnik satellite into orbit was a prime example of Soviet skill in rocketry – and in science in general – and with it the Soviets seemed to be ahead of the U.S., thus rendering the Cold War ever more real and relevant to the American public.

As the tide of the Cold War appeared to shift in favor of the Soviets, the U.S. government responded by escalating its schedule of weapons testing.  And with this change in Cold War politics, the emotional climate stateside became more fearful. A majority of the public now seemed to favor Teller’s objectives, and the scientist himself was featured on the cover of a mid-November 1957 issue of Time Magazine.

Now on the defensive, Pauling became even more alarmed when Edward Teller and Albert Latter, a fellow physicist, published an opinion piece, “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Tests,” in the February 10, 1958 issue of LIFE.  The article outlined Teller and Latter’s arguments in favor of further weapons testing, and especially the need to develop “clean weapons” that produced little or no radioactive fallout. The piece also sought to discredit Pauling and the 9,000 scientists who had signed his petition to halt nuclear weapons tests. The issues that Teller and Latter presented in their article were a preview of the topics that Pauling and Teller would confront in their debate later that month and in their books later that year.

Examples of annotations made by Pauling to his copy of

Examples of annotations made by Pauling to his copy of “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Weapons Tests.”

Looking at Pauling’s copy of the LIFE article, one is struck by his desire to get at the math and understand Teller’s calculations for risk.  His notes also demonstrate his disagreement (and occasional agreement) with statements that Teller and Latter make. He also identifies questions needing clarification, and responses to these questions when he received them. Although it is evident throughout that Pauling did not agree with Teller, as he headed toward the televised debate he clearly desired to understand the claims that Teller was making.

The Pauling-Teller Debate: Setting the Stage

Portrait of Edward Teller by Dmitri Vail. June 1965.

Portrait of Edward Teller by Dmitri Vail. June 1965.

[A detailed examination of the 1958 Pauling-Teller nuclear fallout debate. Post 1 of 5]

Linus Pauling and the Hungarian-American Edward Teller were well-acquainted with one another, both because of their research backgrounds in quantum mechanics and because, by the late 1950s, each was commonly recognized to be one of America’s premier scientists. On February 20th, 1958, the two men came face-to-face in a televised debate about nuclear weapons testing and fallout for the first and only time. Pauling would say afterward that he would never debate Teller again. Later that year, both men also published books that furthered their stances on the topics of nuclear fallout and weapons testing, while simultaneous engaging each other’s views.

World War II came about while both men were at similar places in life. In the mid-1940s, both Pauling and Teller were in the early stages of their careers and were establishing themselves as leaders within their fields of discipline.  However, the choices that the two made in the face of war were radically different – as were the projects that they pursued – with both men making decisions shaped by personal motivations and principles.

Although Pauling was asked to work on the Manhattan Project, he declined to do so, partly because he did not want to disrupt his family life, but also out of a desire to continue on his own war work projects uninterrupted.  With the onset of war, Pauling made an abrupt shift to support the Allied effort, transitioning his work from a focus on immunology to more practical problems, including finding a substitute for blood serum and devising an oxygen meter for use in submarines and aircraft.

On the contrary, when asked to assist with work on the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, Edward Teller replied that he could not say no, due largely to his abhorrence of Hitler and Mussolini and the havoc that they were causing in his native Europe.  A recent arrival to the United States, Teller felt a strong obligation to protect the freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of his new home, of which he too became a citizen in 1941. Teller likewise believed that it was his job as a scientist to help science progress, a belief that only strengthened post-war, as it became clear that the Soviets had developed their own nuclear weapons in 1949, much earlier than anticipated.

Indeed, World War II and the role that technology played in winning the war both elevated science into the spotlight and expanded capacities for public and political criticism of science. According to Pauling, applied science could be used for evil just as easily as it could be used for good, and sometimes the line between the two was hard to discern.

One outcome of this was that scientists now held greater power in politics, and especially in the military. Nonetheless, after the war ended, many scientists simply aligned themselves with the US government, and its objectives, in part to secure support and funding for their projects.  A smaller number, Pauling and Teller included, actively sought to shape government policy with their influence and prestige.

1960i.11-600w

Following the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a long stream of questions and concerns came to dominate the public discourse over nuclear weapons, with many demanding instant action to control the use and further development of these powerful new instruments of war.  In the years immediately following the war, Teller agreed with Pauling that a universal government could, and should, control the knowledge that had resulted in the production of a nuclear device – trying to keep the information secret was unscientific and would likely only make the geopolitical situation worse.

Teller continued to believe in this course of action until finally deciding that the solution was not realistic, especially in the face of mounting tensions with the Soviet Union over their rapidly developing technologies.  Teller stated publicly that he wished he could side with Pauling’s position that the US could help to maintain peace through international cooperation.

But instead, Teller believed that the US ultimately had to keep the upper hand with respect to nuclear technologies and that doing so necessitated further weapons development. Deterrence, Teller felt, required more weapons, and in order for new weapons to be developed, nuclear tests needed to continue. Teller argued that this was the only path to avoiding a third World War. Pauling, on the other hand, believed that the West needed to learn to get along with the Communists and he sought to include them in his peace activities.

The 1958 debate, and Pauling and Teller’s stances, encapsulate many of the diverse ideas and tensions that surrounded the development and testing of nuclear weapons in the Cold War period. The two scientists approached the dangers of the Cold War and the associated arms race from very different perspectives, due in part to their different disciplinary backgrounds in chemistry and physics respectively. Nonetheless, their tactics and approach were similar in key respects, in part because each man shared an enthusiasm for speaking to large lay audiences.

Both men also sought to educate the American public about the current geopolitical situation and the future of nuclear development, and both strove to present their views in language that the public could understand.  Pauling was extremely rational in his thinking and he sought to use his scientific background to educate others so that they could draw their own conclusions concerning nuclear testing and fallout.  In this, Teller was similar to Pauling as he too sought to educate the lay public as a means to establish his argument.  Both men also believed that it was their duty to educate the public because of their unique positions as scientists, consultants, and citizens.

But the discussion between Pauling and Teller was not merely one of whether or not nuclear weapons should continue to be developed, but ultimately how peace with the Soviet Union could be maintained.  For Pauling the dialogue was framed as a battle for disarmament that would lead to peace; for Teller, it was deterrence against future Soviet acts of aggression.  Both men played on the fears of ordinary Americans, drawing from the very real tensions of the time, and each fought for the attention of politicians who could enact the policies that they, as scientists, could not.  As we will see, the result of all this was a sometimes messy battle over calculations, predictions, and interpretations.

Campbell, Pressman, Pauling and the Binding of Antibodies

Drawings of the interaction between an antibody and azoprotein by Linus Pauling. 1940s.

Dan Campbell first collaborated with Linus Pauling on a fellowship at Caltech in 1940, during which time the duo tried to explain how antibodies are formed. At the time, Pauling believed that antibodies were proteins in-the-making that needed to bind to antigens in order to fold and complete their structure. If this principle was correct, Pauling thought, it might be possible to create artificial antibodies by simply denaturing proteins and allowing them to bind and refold in the presence of antigens.

Despite the fact that Campbell’s initial test results cast doubt on his collaborator’s theories, Pauling went ahead and published his ideas on how antibodies work, hoping that further research could support his paper. Thus began a lengthy study of antigen-antibody binding in which Pauling and Campbell attempted to develop a complete theory. Along the way, Dan Campbell’s research at Caltech would become very important to the Institute as well as to Pauling.

In 1943 a Caltech research fellow named David Pressman agreed to join Campbell and Pauling in their study of immunology. Starting with work that had previously been published, Pressman, Pauling and Campbell refocused their studies to explain how antigens and antibodies bind, a change in focus from Campbell and Pauling’s earlier inquiries into how antibodies and antigens are formed. The decision to focus on previous research was made after Pauling had mistakenly announced that antibodies had successfully been synthesized at the Gates and Crellin Laboratories. As it turned out, attempts to create synthetic antibodies using Pauling’s proposed methods were completely unsuccessful. Pauling thus decided to start from scratch by developing a theory of antigen-antibody binding, which he would use to further investigate the chemistry of this interaction.

In July 1943, the three men published “The Nature of the Forces Between Antigen and Antibody and of the Precipitation Reaction,” appearing in the journal Physiological Reviews. The paper attempted to make more educated predictions about antigen-antibody binding.  In doing so, the article begins by referencing the concept of structural complementarity, which posits that antigen-antibody binding is driven by the close complementary physical shapes of the two molecules, which fit together like two adjoining pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Commonly referred to as “the lock and key mechanism,” this idea was developed in the early 1930s, and served as Pauling and Campbell’s starting point in their initial investigations.

The 1943 study also drew from outside theories, such as the framework theory of precipitation, to suggest that antigen-antibody binding results in the formation of a precipitate; that is, that the two structures react to form an insoluble compound. Using these points as their foundation, the three researchers developed a new theory of antigen-antibody binding.

Pauling and Campbell, 1943.

Pauling and Campbell, 1943.

Campbell, Pressman and Pauling’s breakthrough came by way of their proposal that structural complementarity is an especially important feature for reactions that depend on Van der Waals forces. Van der Waals forces are weak forces of attraction that bind together molecules located in close proximity to one another. The Caltech researchers believed that the close complementary geometry of antibodies and antigens was significant enough to enable these molecules to fit together using the weak Van der Waals attraction as a binding force. In other words, the summation of Van der Waals forces present along the binding site of an antibody worked to bind it to its antigen, specifically because the shapes of antibodies and antigens complimented each other so closely. This theory explained much of what had been observed by immunologists across the discipline in multiple investigations of antigen-antibody reactions.

From here, the three researchers also asserted that two propositions placed forth in Pauling’s 1940 paper should still be considered for further study: the multivalence of antigen-antibody interactions and the probability of hydrogen bonds acting between the two molecules. The trio also concluded that the antigen-antibody mechanism would require at least two supplementary types of forces: Coulomb attraction and polar attraction.

Of the conclusions published by Campbell, Pressman and Pauling in 1943, the multivalence of antigen-antibody interactions and the three proposed forces (Van der Waals, Coulomb and polar) between the two molecules are still considered to be contributing factors to the functioning of the human immune system. With this publication, Campbell, Pauling and Pressman also showed that the immune system relies heavily on both structural and chemical features to carry out its processes.

The important conclusions derived from research conducted by Campbell, Pauling and others established Caltech as a leader in the field of immunology. Over the years that followed, Campbell and Pauling continued to develop their theory of antibody formation, which remained widely accepted until the 1950s. Even when the duo’s work began to be disproven by findings in the genetics field, the understanding of antigen-antibody interactions suggested by research done at Caltech remained undisputed.

Dan Campbell and Linus Pauling went on to publish more than twenty articles relating to immunology, exchanging ideas on the topic until the end of Pauling’s tenure at Caltech in the early 1960s. The attention that their work brought to the Gates and Crellin Laboratories at Caltech prompted the creation of a separate department, one that was entirely dedicated to immunochemistry. (The first of its kind on the west coast.)

For thirty years, Campbell headed Caltech’s immunochemical research and his fame as an immunologist grew to the point where, in 1972, he was named president of the American Association of Immunologists. Two years later, in 1974, Campbell passed away at the age of 67, the victim of a heart attack.  Over the course of his career, he published more than 200 papers as well as several books, and he served on editorial boards of four scientific journals related to immunology.

The Arrival of Dan Campbell at Caltech

Dan Campbell, ca. 1940s.

Dan Campbell, ca. 1940s.

[Part 1 of 2]

As a scientist, Linus Pauling is remembered by many for combining his expertise in chemistry with other fields. Often times Pauling would start off thinking about a problem from a chemical perspective and end up learning about a field entirely new to him, like cellular biology or medicine. Though this sort of cross-disciplinary work is more commonplace today (partly because of the example that Pauling provided), in the 1930s it was fairly rare for scientists to combine different fields of study. This given, pioneers of the cross-disciplinary approach often found it difficult to identify like-minded researchers with whom to collaborate. Fortunately for Pauling, a man with a very wide network, other researchers often found him.

After delivering a talk about hemoglobin in 1936, Pauling was pleasantly surprised to be consulted by Austrian medical researcher Karl Landsteiner. For many years, Landsteiner had been trying to understand how antibodies in the immune system work, and he believed that Pauling’s knowledge of medicine and chemistry could help him in his investigations. An antibody is a disease-fighting macromolecule that targets and rids the body of unwanted foreign substances, such as viruses and incompatible blood types. Landsteiner wanted to know how antibodies can target specific foreign substances with such precision. This encounter drew Pauling’s attention to the field of immunology, which would eventually become an important part of his research and would remain so for many years to come.

Pauling’s communications with Landsteiner spurred an interest in looking into the chemistry of antibodies and their substrates, antigens. At the time, however, most of Pauling’s focus was necessarily occupied with finishing up his previous program of grant-funded research on protein structures. Furthermore, Pauling was not an immunologist and the demands on his time were such that he could do little more than keep immunology in the back of his mind.

It wasn’t until 1939 that Landsteiner once again brought Pauling’s full attention back to antigens when he used Pauling’s theory of protein structure in a discussion about antibodies. Reading Landsteiner’s article sparked several ideas for Pauling which quickly led to his drafting a rudimentary theory of antibody chemistry. Six months later he found the perfect opportunity to test some these ideas.


Image extracted from a glass plate display, “Pictures of Antibodies,” prepared for the First International Poliomyelitis Conference, New York, 1948. The caption accompanying this image reads: “…[An] antibody-antigen framework which may precipitate from a solution or be taken up by phagocytic cells.”


In January 1940, immunologist Dan Campbell first visited Caltech on a fellowship. Campbell was an Ohio native who had been trained at Wabash College in Indiana and George Washington University in St. Louis, before receiving a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago, where he was subsequently hired as an assistant professor. During his tenure at Chicago, Pauling invited Campbell to spend a fellowship period at Caltech.  Campbell was only scantly familiar with the Institute, but was aware of the reputation of its chemistry department and accepted Pauling’s offer largely on this basis.

Due to his unfamiliarity with the institution, by the time of his arrival in Pasadena Campbell had still not yet identified a research project on which to collaborate. Pauling advised Campbell to consider different researchers before making his final decision on where and with whom he might work. In the end, after asking around, Campbell chose to collaborate with Pauling on his theory of immunology.

This was a fortuitous decision, for several reasons.  First, in addition to immunology, Campbell had a background in biophysics and chemistry, which made him a perfect candidate to test and develop Pauling’s antigen theory. More importantly, as Campbell began his initial investigations, it became apparent that Pauling’s ideas were flawed and that Pauling’s knowledge of chemistry alone would not be sufficient to make further progress in immunological research.


Campbell and Pauling, 1943.

Pauling had alleged that antibodies were similar to denatured proteins; that is, a protein that has lost its secondary and tertiary structures and has unfolded into an amino acid chain. Pauling’s theory anticipated that antibodies were an unfinished protein that required specific antigens in order to fold into the proper secondary and tertiary structures.

According to this model, antibodies would only form hydrogen bonds and thus would coil around chemically complementary antigens. As such, the theory explained how antibodies are able to bind unambiguously to their complementary molecules. However, Campbell’s results did not support all of Pauling’s ideas. Though his research showed that antibodies were in fact proteins, their physical structure before and after binding to antigens remained unclear.

Pauling’s lack of evidence for his theory of antibody structure and composition limited him to publishing only a single theoretical paper in which he explained his ideas about antibodies. In July 1940 the Journal of the American Chemical Society featured Pauling’s “A Theory of the Structure and Process of Formation of Antibodies.” The article received much attention and, despite the lack of evidence, was widely acclaimed, though it failed to provide a definitive explanation for antibody structure.

After the publication of the piece, Campbell once again tested Pauling’s theory, and this time his results were much more confusing, to say the least. Initially, it appeared that Campbell had succeeded in creating artificial antibodies by simply denaturing beef globulins (a protein found in blood) and later allowing them to refold around an antigen.

Word of these results greatly excited Pauling, who began to envision the mass production of antibodies using Campbell’s method. Reality turned out to be not so simple; when students and postdoctoral fellows tried to replicate Campbell’s experiment, they were unable to obtain the same results. Looking back now, it seems most likely that Campbell’s research assistants had misinterpreted the results of his experiment.

Pauling knew that he would need more time with Campbell to refine his theory, but that could only happen if Campbell’s position at Caltech was secured. In 1942 Pauling arranged for the Institute to offer Campbell an assistant professorship, which he accepted. By 1950 Campbell had become a full professor.

Combining immunology and chemistry proved to be a commendable approach for tackling many health concerns of the time. Likewise, Campbell’s presence was crucial to the development of Caltech’s immunochemistry department, which over a span of five years grew from a single office (Campbell’s) to a space occupying most of the third floor of Caltech’s Church Laboratory. Students and professors alike flocked to the growing department to discuss questions and engage in research on immunology, using chemistry as the basis of their approach. From the outset, both Pauling and Campbell benefited from one another’s expertise while colleagues at Caltech, and their partnership would continue to yield fruit for many years.

An Incident in The Netherlands

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Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were well known for their support of one another’s work; particularly so when it came to the topic of world peace. As with all activists, the Paulings often found themselves encountering both support and opposition to their ideals. One instance of opposition made headlines around the world and showed that fame was at times both sword and shield for the Paulings.

By the spring of 1964, much of Ava Helen’s work as an activist was channeled through her involvement with Women Strike for Peace (WSP), a network of female peace advocates from across the United States. That year, Ava became one of the primary organizers of a meeting that was to take place in The Hague, Netherlands. The WSP called women peace activists from around the world to meet in The Hague to protest against the transfer of nuclear weapons from the United States to other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries.

At the time, it had been agreed that existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons should not be transferred between countries. The United States, however, was trying to make a case for the legal transfer of nuclear weapons to West Germany on the grounds that, when it came to international agreements, NATO allies functioned as a unit rather than as individual countries. Ava Helen and the WSP were successful in garnering the support and participation of women from every NATO country including, importantly, representation from West Germany.

Ava Helen and Linus’s plans to attend a peace conference in Mexico City just days before the WSP demonstration had made it unlikely that Ava would be present at the peace demonstration in The Hague. WSP members, however, urged Ava Helen to find a way to attend, and last minute arrangements did indeed make it possible for her to fly overseas for the meeting.  Once arrived, however, it was Ava Helen’s absence from the proceedings which changed the outcome of what had been planned as a silent protest.


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Days before the demonstration was to begin, the Dutch government – without informing WSP – banned the women’s peace demonstration and began preventing participants from entering the country. Unaware of this turn of events, Ava Helen boarded a flight from Mexico City to Amsterdam on May 10th, where a copy of The Triple Revolution was found among her belongings. The presence of this pamphlet was evidence enough for immigration officials at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to recognize Ava as a participant in the demonstration.

The Triple Revolution was a memorandum, issued by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, to which Linus Pauling had contributed. The document was addressed to President Lyndon B. Johnson and it rejected both the development of nuclear weapons and the move toward an economy dependent on machine-based labor. Published in pamphlet form, the document became an important component of WSP’s rhetoric, as it was applicable to issues of concern in both the United States as well as many other parts of the world. The Triple Revolution‘s notoriety as a radical proposal, however, placed its supporters in opposition to much of the leadership of the western world’s governments.

This is the context of what awaited Ava Helen when she arrived in Amsterdam. Having made the decision to ban the WSP demonstration, and cognizant of her role in its organization, the Dutch government made the decision to deny Ava Helen’s entry into the country.  Not long after landing she was promptly put on to a different flight, this time bound for Copenhagen, Denmark.


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By the time that Ava landed in Copenhagen, Linus Pauling had arrived at his home in Pasadena, where a call that he received at one o’clock in the morning alerted him to his wife’s situation in The Netherlands. In a personal note written at 1:15 AM on May 11th, Pauling expressed his frustration as well as his intent to notify the press about the incident. In a later note, he recalled the events of that day, condemning the incident as a “dictatorial action of oppression and prevention of free speech.”

Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Ava Helen was met by news reporters who asked if she had mentioned to the Dutch immigration officials who she was and to whom she was married. To this Ava replied

I was certain they did not recognize my name or that of my husband and I felt that, as a matter of principle, I could not bribe officials by telling them I was the wife of a man who had won two Nobel Prizes.

Ava assured the journalists that the whole affair must have been a mistake and that the mishap would be taken care of. When a reporter contacted the Dutch embassy in Copenhagen, however, they found that Ava had been wrong: the Dutch government had in fact given orders to keep WSP members out of the country. The Danish press promptly published Ava’s story, which made news around the world.

When Linus called the Dutch embassy in Washington, D.C. he was told that the demonstration had been cancelled. Not knowing that the European media was already covering story, Pauling quickly made plans of his own for notifying the press. With journalistic efforts underway on two continents, questions began to arise concerning the legality and the implications for civil liberties of the Dutch government’s decision.

Back in the United States, members of Women Strike for Peace also flooded the Dutch embassy with questions regarding Ava’s denied entry and the suppression of their demonstration. These pressures ultimately compelled the Dutch government to retreat from its initial decision. That same day, the activist women who had made it into the country gathered in a silent demonstration outside of the Peace Palace in The Hague. Two days later, Ava entered The Netherlands and joined the women of WSP for their NATO meeting.


Ava Helen’s contretemps with Dutch immigration authorities stands as another example of the ways in which the Paulings’ fame both exposed and protected the two peace advocates. And while the Danish press had questioned why Ava didn’t use her last name to get into get into The Netherlands, it is clear that doing so was not necessary.

By the early 1960s, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling had become well-acquainted with the art of circulating their opinions through means of peaceful protest. As Ava wrote in a letter to Linus, had she used her name to enter the Netherlands, the meeting might not have taken place. Although initially anonymous, Ava’s role in the Women Strike for Peace demonstration and the attention that she received from the press, were crucial to the Dutch government’s decision to allow the meeting to take place and to making the demonstration news around the world.

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