An Incident in The Netherlands


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.


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.


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.

Continuing Work on Vitamin C and Cancer: An Interview with Matthew Kaiser

Matthew Kaiser.

Matthew Kaiser.

The blog recently had the opportunity to sit down with Matthew Kaiser, an Oregon State University undergraduate senior in microbiology from Salem, Oregon.  Kaiser, who hopes to pursue a career as an MD/Ph.D., has led an exciting research project on the potential treatment of cancer using intravenous vitamin C.  He also recently delivered a talk titled “Is Humanity Ready for an Upgrade?” at a recent TEDx symposium hosted by OSU.

What follows below is an edited excerpt of our interview with Kaiser in which he discusses the roots of his project, its potential application, and his experience of conducting and presenting high level research at a very young age.

The Roots of the Research Project 

The beginnings of this research project were more or less like most undergraduate project tend to start. Not all, but some tend to be these big black box projects, we call them, in that there are a lot of unknowns. It’s almost like, “we really don’t know a lot about this but hey, we’ll give it to an undergraduate to take a stab at it. Because even that way if it doesn’t work out, if we find out that there really is no story here, they get the research experience and then we don’t necessarily waste a graduate student’s time or post-doc’s time on a project that didn’t end up being published.”

But where this project started was, of course, back in the days of Linus Pauling who was among the first to suggest that high doses of Vitamin C could have an anti-cancer effect. But following his initial studies with Vitamin C, or ascorbate, there were studies that came out by the Mayo Clinic and other labs that showed that Vitamin C did not have a protective or anticancer effect. And so it was largely abandoned by the medical community for several years but it continued to be researched in kind of an alternative medicine environment. Through that, as our understanding of how Vitamin C is metabolized by the body developed, we were able to understand that if Vitamin C was delivered orally, it was completely different than how Vitamin C could be regulated if it was administered through an IV, because if you administer it through an IV you’re able to bypass all the digestive control and renal reabsorption in your small intestine. That normally would limit the amount of Vitamin C that gets into your bloodstream and then becomes vitally available.

So this project started kind of on the cusp of these exciting studies looking at the pharmacokinetics and, again, looking at the bioavailability of Vitamin C. And just to put it in perspective: so if you go home and eat fifty oranges, like all my friends like to try and do because they know I work on Vitamin C, they’re like “oh, Vitamin C and cancer, I can eat fifty oranges, right? And I can prevent cancer or cure myself or colon cancer?” And what we’re looking at in this project are doses that can only be achieved by IV because if you eat these fifty oranges, the maximum you can saturate your blood plasma level is about 220 micromolar. To put it in perspective, so if you can saturate your blood to a level of about 200 micromolar following oral ascorbate, if you go home and had an IV or you went to a clinic and you had an infusion of IV ascorbate, you can saturate blood plasma up to 30 millimolar. And there’s a thousand micromolars in one millimolar. So, extremely different doses can be achieved by these two different routes.

Continue reading

Carl Djerassi and the Methods of Scientific Education


Carl Djerassi, who passed away on January 30, 2015 due to complications of liver and bone cancer, was a remarkable scientist, a talented author, and a friend of Linus Pauling.  The Austrian-born Bulgarian Jew was known as the father of the birth control pill and also developed antihistamines.  But the intersection of his knowledge of science and his talent for writing was perhaps the most fruitful element of his life.  His literature focused on the practice and production of science, but also served to bring the unique issues and concerns of the scientific community to a larger audience and to educate them on the basics of the science.

In addition to his formal scientific work, Djerassi was also a novelist and playwright, and he found the need to educate to be the most important aspect of his work in fiction.  Doing so in an effective manner naturally required skill and precise navigation so the reader or playgoer was not confused or bored.  In order to keep his audience entertained and focused, Djerassi believed it to be of utmost importance to maintain a story throughout the work; only then could he incorporate real science and realistic scientists as his characters.


Djerassi’s approach was similar to that taken by Linus Pauling, who also placed great importance on the need for the general public to be educated about big issues in science. Indeed, the two men were colleagues for a time when Pauling was at Stanford University from 1969-1972, and they remained in contact outside of this affiliation.

In fact, Djerassi wrote to Pauling asking him to provide back matter for his autobiography, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse: the Remarkable Autobiography of the Award-winning Scientist Who Synthesized the Birth Control Pill, because he could think of no other chemist who was so well-known to the public.

Pauling was glad to serve in this capacity, noting in a letter that he “found the first few pages of [the] autobiography so interesting that for two days I neglected my work in order to read the book from beginning to end.” Although Pauling enjoyed the book’s discussion of Djerassi’s work on The Pill, “even more interesting [were] the chapters on his adventure-filled life, the Pugwash movement, and other aspects of world affairs, the problem of continually increasing population, and other aspects of the world of today.”

At various point throughout his book, Djerassi likewise aligned himself with an ideology similar to Pauling’s. In the introduction, Djerassi wrote that

scientists are not necessarily narrow specialists, communicating in an incomprehensible language and dealing in the cloistered ambiance of their laboratories with subjects far removed from everyday concerns…they can be as widely curious, and as self-centeredly imperfect, as scholars and thinkers in any intellectual endeavor and, at the same time, involve themselves with burning social issues.

This emphasis on the need for scientists to participate in social issues beyond their professional interests is central to understanding what both Djerassi and Pauling chose to write about and how they presented their ideas to the public.

Flyer for "Oxygen," a play written by Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann.

Flyer for “Oxygen,” a play written by Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann.

One key difference, of course, is that Djerassi often promoted his ideas in works of fiction that strove to educate his audience in such a way that, by the time they had finished the play or novel, they could explain the scientific process around which the work was centered.  He described this genre of writing as “science-in-fiction,” which was not meant to be confused with science fiction but instead hinged on the premise that if it were not for the science in the work, the work itself could not exist.  Djerassi further noted that, by presenting the material in this manner and disguising science as fiction, “science-in-fiction allows the illustration and discussion of ethical dilemmas that are frequently not raised for reasons of discretion, embarrassment, or fear of retribution.”

Starting in the 1980s, when he first began writing science-in-fiction, Djerassi also devoted time to writing “science-in-theater,” the production of science-in-fiction as presented on stage.  One product of this genre was An Immaculate Conception: Sex in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (2000), which Djerassi used as a platform to discuss intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and its impact on personal views concerning human reproduction.  Because the discussion was couched in the form of a play, it was naturally conducted in a public setting and thus carried forth without – to paraphrase Djerassi – need for discretion or fear of embarrassment or retribution.

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in Westlake Park. Beverly Hills, California. 1960.  Photo by Robert Carl Cohen.

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in Westlake Park. Beverly Hills, California. 1960. Photo by Robert Carl Cohen.

Despite their strongly shared principle belief in the importance of educating the public, Pauling’s work was quite different from that of Djerassi.  Although he too tried to bring science to life, Pauling never turned to fiction to deliver his points. Instead he tried to present the science as it was, but in terms that an audience member or reader could understand.  This focus on the lay audience was central to his speech writing and carried over into his published work as well.

Pauling was extremely rational in his thinking and he sought to use his scientific background not just to describe the science at hand, but also to educate others so that they could draw their own conclusions concerning scientific discoveries and current events. But there are numerous examples where he took another step. For Pauling, issues of nuclear testing, radioactive fallout, and nuclear disarmament were central to his most well-known rhetoric of the late 1950s. While often methodical in his presentations, Pauling’s discussions of fallout regularly used charged language that played on the feelings and fears of his audience, in the process drawing from the emotional tension of the Cold War and the audience’s concerns over what another war would entail.

Pauling also tried to dispel the notion held by much of the public that there was disagreement among scientists as to the actual effects of radiation on humans.  His book, No More War!, served as a vehicle for him to promote his own ideas and concerns for a future world and to outline remedies for how these problems might be alleviated.  In this, he went one step further than merely educating the reader or audience member as Djerassi had done.  Education was important, but Pauling also fought for the attention of politicians who could enact the policies that scientists could not.

Becoming Dr. Pauling

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Linus Pauling’s 114th birthday, which was observed last weekend, dovetails nicely with the seventh anniversary of the creation of this blog, which we celebrate today. Milestones of this sort tend to get us thinking about our connection with Pauling here at Oregon State University and the transformative experience that he enjoyed as an undergraduate, more than ninety years ago.  Though he left Oregon in 1922 and would never reside in his home state again, the roots of the Linus Pauling who would deeply impact so many corners of twentieth century history can be concretely traced back to his youth in the Beaver state and, importantly, to his tenure as an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College.

During Pauling’s teenage years, questions regarding his future and the feasibility of professional training began entering his mind. As he weighed his options, Pauling had several things to consider. Of primary importance was the absence of his father, Herman, who had died in 1909, leaving the family’s financial situation teetering on the brink and erasing a vital male mentor from young Linus’s life. Though plagued with emotional insecurities, and despite being forced to hold a job from an early age to help supplement the family income, Linus still managed to discover his true passion, chemistry, as a thirteen year old high school freshman.


In a 1954 interview, Pauling credited Miss Pauline Geballe, a teacher at Portland’s Washington High School, for having helped him to discover his love for chemistry. Always a precocious child, Pauling began seizing every opportunity to learn more once his interest was sparked, and he took as many math and science courses as he could while in high school. Though a success at Washington, he knew that there was still much more to learn. At the time, chemistry was a booming professional field in the United States, and Pauling was aware that pursuing a degree in that area would pay off financially while hopefully satisfying his intellectual curiosity.

And yet, as he pondered his future, Pauling’s internal dialogue was haunted by his lingering insecurities. Believing that a college education was a privilege reserved for competent individuals, he at times felt unworthy of an opportunity of this sort. Eventually Pauling was able to overcome his fears and enroll at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC, currently Oregon State University), the state’s land grant institution and, realistically, the only college that he could afford. (Tuition was free for Oregon residents, and student fees amounted to around $10 per term, depending on the courses that one took.)

Fear flooded Pauling’s mind as the time came to face a new and unfamiliar environment. A month and a day before entering OAC, Pauling wrote in his diary:

Paul Harvey is going to OAC to study chemistry – Big manly Paul Harvey, beside whom I pale into insignificance. Why should I enjoy the same benefits he has, when I am so unprepared, so unused to the ways of man? I will not be able on account of my youth and inexperience, to do justice to the courses and the teaching placed before me.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

It is interesting to note that finances – though a logical worry for someone in Pauling’s situation – are not what seemed to have troubled him the most. More salient is the link between experience, or “manliness,” and the benefits of an education. Pauling began college at the age of 16 and he clearly thought of his youth as an obstacle that put him at a disadvantage. OAC, however, gave Pauling more than academic knowledge; it changed the way that he thought about himself. Rather than asking why he should enjoy the benefits of a higher education, Pauling left OAC brimming with confidence, in search of new opportunities as a professional and as an intellectual.

Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

To think that Pauling began his academic experience as a timid and uncertain individual may come as somewhat of a surprise; particularly so because Pauling is now remembered as an outspoken, larger-than-life figure. From the vantage point of today one might also suggest that, as he entered college, Pauling should not have felt like he lacked experience. He had, after all, just about exhausted most of the employment and educational opportunities then available to a young man of high school age. Quite early on in life, Pauling had been given the responsibility of watching the family drugstore whenever his father needed to be absent. Later on, in his free time, Pauling and his friends devised any number of new schemes to remain employed, even seriously contemplating the possibility of opening a private chemical laboratory. And in school, Pauling seized every opportunity to broaden his horizons.

Looking into the records from Pauling’s undergraduate years, one might surmise that his feelings of unworthiness were overcome largely because of the OAC experience itself. In college he would develop his character and identity.  And he would escape the shell of the boy who lost his father at the age of eight and who was raised by a harried mother whom, in his later estimation, didn’t understand him very well.

"A prodigy, yet in his teens."

“A prodigy, yet in his teens.”

As the young Pauling settled in at Oregon Agricultural College, he found himself first overwhelmed by the diversity of courses that were required of chemical engineering students and, eventually, dissatisfied with the quality of coursework that was offered. Pauling realized pretty quickly, however, that he “deserved” to be in college as the successes that he had enjoyed in his high school courses continued in the OAC classrooms and labs. It is also clear that, by the time Pauling graduated, students and professors alike recognized his academic talent: OAC’s 1922 yearbook refers to Pauling, by then a senior, as “a prodigy, yet in his teens.”

By the time that he had graduated, Pauling’s overwhelming sense of his academic experience was that of dissatisfaction with the limitations from which OAC suffered at the time. Students were required to learn only the basics of chemical engineering and most of his professors lacked professional experience in the chemical industry. Most of the department’s professors did not have a doctorate, and of those who claimed a post-graduate education, at least one was lying.

Known then as the "Chem Shack," OSU's refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

Known then as the “Chem Shack,” OSU’s refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

There were faculty members at OAC, however, who were aware that professions in the sciences were changing and that both a research infrastructure and a chemical industry based in the United States were on the ascendance. OAC professors like Floyd Rowland did their best to expose their students to the latest findings and research methodologies in the field. Indeed, Rowland, the head of the chemical engineering program, so impacted his students that nine out of the twelve in Pauling’s graduating class went on to pursue post-graduate education – at that time, a near unimaginable success. So while Pauling’s hunger for an academic challenge was not quenched as an undergraduate, he surely began to discover his true potential at OAC, and he had at least a few people on campus helping him down that path.

Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers.  Pauling, at left, wears his "rook lid," required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers. Pauling, at left, wears his “rook lid,” required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Concerning the social side of Pauling’s undergraduate experience, it is known from his letters and reflections in later years that his involvement in the fraternity system was very important to the development of his personality. Pauling credited the OAC Chapter of Delta Upsilon for bringing him out of the isolation from his peers that he had felt as a child and had initially experienced upon moving to Corvallis.

His involvement in the Greek system began when he was invited to join Gama Tau Beta. Pauling later suggested that this likely came about because the house needed to bolster its grade point average and knew that Pauling would provide a big boost. Whatever the reason for Pauling’s invitation, he joined and he greatly benefited from the company of new found brothers.

Over time Pauling became a house leader. One of his main goals is this capacity was to broaden the connections of his fraternity by proposing that the house join a nationwide brotherhood, the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Once his house brothers accepted the proposition, Pauling almost single-handedly took care of moving the transition forward. In his later years, Pauling discussed the impact that fraternity life had made on his college experience, noting that

up until the time that I became a member of Gamma Tau Beta there was no one who strove to teach me how to get along with my fellow human beings.

So while Pauling was discovering his academic and professional potential through his classroom experience at OAC, his shyness was also being overcome by the social mentorship that he received from his fraternity brothers.  When he left Corvallis, Pauling was well on his way to becoming the confident individual that many came to know over the ensuing decades.

A very early - perhaps the earliest - photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

A very early – perhaps the earliest – photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

OAC provided a wealth of opportunities for Pauling to cultivate his talents and discover his potential, but probably the most important outcome of his undergraduate experience was the relationship that he developed with Ava Helen Miller.

As we’ve seen, Pauling’s academic prowess was noted by students and faculty alike, so much so that, during his junior year, Pauling was hired as an instructor and assigned to teach freshman-level chemistry. He was eighteen years old at the time.

On January 6, 1922, Linus entered a classroom nervous, but basically ready, to teach a class of Home Economics majors. The era being what it was, this class consisted entirely of female students. Feeling a need to establish his authority from early on, Pauling decided to ask a tough question. He ran his finger down the registration sheet, looking for someone to call on in response to the inquiry, “what do you know about ammonium hydroxide…Miss Miller?”  Ava Helen responded with a quite satisfactory answer – the class had studied this compound during the previous term – and thus began a relationship that steadily developed into a romance. In the months that followed, the connection between the two quickly developed and, before long, the young couple was engaged.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Linus’s early relationship with Ava is of notable importance because it bridges two periods in his career: the end of the OAC chapter and the beginning of his long run at Caltech. Linus graduated from OAC in June 1922 and moved on to Pasadena while Ava Helen stayed in Corvallis for more schooling, the couple’s desire to wed temporarily squelched by both sets of parents. Separated for one year, the two wrote to each other nearly every day, and in these letters Linus expressed his true self to Ava Helen in a way he had not done (and never would do) with anybody else.

Later on, in marriage, the two would inspire each other to take their work even further. Ava Helen’s interest in world affairs would propel Linus’s awareness of the need for peace activism, and Linus’s dedication would inspire Ava Helen to become a leader in countless social justice organizations. As a friend of the duo wrote in 1960 “the Paulings don’t stand in each other’s shadow, they walk in each other’s light.”  For us, as we reflect on the milestones of today, it is gratifying to know that this hugely important couple owed their introduction to the little land grant school in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a fertile space then, as now, for the transformation of bright young minds.

A Return to Scientific Theory


[Part 6 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

One of Linus Pauling’s hopes during his time at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) was to collaborate with neighboring institutions, such as branches of the University of California, and perform scientific research while contributing to the Center’s discussions on world peace. Pauling joined the Center because he believed that science should be used to address social issues and to offer solutions to the problems facing society. Pauling was optimistic of the support and independence that he would enjoy at the Center in support of his ambitions. Upon their arrival to Santa Barbara, however, Ava Helen Pauling expressed the fear that her husband might find the CSDI “too superficial.”

Ava Helen’s prediction, as it turned out, was basically correct, and more and more her husband found himself disappointed by his inability to progress his scientific research. Originally he had hoped to use the scientific method to tackle world affairs but, as he soon realized, the Center preferred to focus on appeals to the public rather than programs of research. His options for joining neighboring institutions to perform scientific work were also quite limited. Importantly, the University of California rejected Pauling’s application for an adjunct position at UC Santa Barbara because of his controversial politics. By August 1965, only two years after being hired by the CSDI and just one year after moving to Santa Barbara, Pauling was writing letters to the Center’s president, Robert Hutchins, asking to spend less time at CSDI headquarters so that he might advance his scientific work from a new base – the Pauling ranch at Big Sur.

Figure from "The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission," Science, October 1965.

Figure from “The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission,” Science, October 1965.

Pauling spent much of his time away from Santa Barbara developing a new model of the atom, which he called the close-packed-spheron model of atomic nuclei. This theory of nuclear structure was published in four different articles (“Structural significance of the principal quantum number of nucleonic orbital wave functions,” Phys. Rev. Lett., September 1965; “Structural basis of neutron and proton magic numbers in atomic nuclei,” Nature, October 1965; “The close-packed-spheron model of atomic nuclei and its relation to the shell model,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., October 1965; and “The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission,” Science, October 1965) each of which addressed different implications of the theory.

Pauling’s work dealt with “magic numbers” and nuclear subshells. Previously it was known that magic numbers describe the quantity of protons and neutrons that make an atom particularly stable. Pauling’s theory, however, suggests that the “magic” qualities associated with these numbers of nuclear components corresponds to the filling of nuclear “spherons,” or nuclear sub-units where protons and neutrons are arranged. (These spherons or sub-units were also referred to as shells in previous theories.) The close-packed theory therefore suggests that nuclear components form clusters rather than arranging as independent particles.

The close-packed-spheron model was based on the earlier nuclear shell theory. Pauling took the nuclear shell theory a step further by attempting to explain why specific numbers of protons and neutrons cause greater nuclear stability. The close-packed-spheron model states that the lower magic numbers represent atoms in which the first or second nuclear shells are filled, and that higher magic numbers correspond to a special “mantle” shell; that is, a hybridized shell that can form if greater amounts of nuclear components arrange into spheres.

In developing his model, Pauling was trying to explain the arrangement of nuclear components by simplifying previous theories and applying the principles of electron orbitals to protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus. Pauling’s past work had helped to establish the principles of electron orbital hybridization, and he hoped that this new work would yield similar fruit for the atomic nucleus. If such were the case, it would then be possible to explain the stability of atoms with magic numbers and the geometric arrangement of protons and neutrons.

Pauling’s close-packed theory was interesting and relatively simple; however, it failed to spark interest among many other scientists. For the next several years, Pauling continued to advocate for the theory and, in June 1974, he applied for a National Science Foundation grant to support further theoretical research on the structure of atomic nuclei. The application was denied and Pauling turned his attentions elsewhere.


The development of the close-packed-spheron theory and the lack of attention that it received from the scientific community are emblematic of the difficulties that Pauling experienced during his affiliation with the CSDI. The limited resources available to Pauling during this time enabled only theoretical investigations on subjects with which he was already at least somewhat familiar. And his official connection with an institution that existed well out of the scientific mainstream stifled his ability to engage with his scientific peers on a regular basis.

Pauling was only at the CSDI until 1967, and towards the end of his tenure there his eagerness to return to the sciences only grew. Other publications from the period focused on molecular protein structure and the chemical bond. As with the structure of atomic nuclei, these topics were, again, among those that he had researched prior to moving to Santa Barbara.  Once he found a new scientific home, the University of California at San Diego, Pauling began new investigations in medical chemistry which ultimately led to his famous fascination with vitamin C.

Pauling’s switch to a scientific focus could be interpreted as stemming from a waning interest in world affairs, but his papers show that it was the limitations that he encountered at the CSDI that led him to return to more scientific pursuits. World affairs remained central to Pauling’s activities and continued to lay claim to large pieces of his time, especially as the war in Vietnam escalated throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pauling was interested in developing ideas that could lead the world towards peace, while the Center was primarily a think tank that often focused more on discussion rather than reaching conclusions. In the end, superficial or not, the CSDI simply was not the institution for Linus Pauling.


A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects



[Part 5 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling is often remembered for his achievements in chemistry and his active involvement in the peace movement. Much of his work stemmed from an interest in further understanding the natural world and using this knowledge to promote the well-being of others.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise that, during his stint at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI), he considered taking time to research unidentified flying objects. The phenomenon would seem like an unusual subject for Pauling to study, especially because he joined the CSDI in hopes of focusing on medical chemistry and socio-economic theory. In July 1966, however, Pauling did indeed write a project proposal outlining a program of research on unidentified flying objects.


Pauling’s UFO project proposal, pg. 1. July 1966.


UFO proposal, pg. 2.


In discussing this moment in Pauling’s career, it is important to point out that Pauling viewed the study as a “possibility,” rather than anything close to an immediate priority. One hastens to add as well that the study was not ever conducted.  The proposal document that he crafted, however, is evidence of the approach that Pauling would have taken to explain the phenomenon, and it is an interesting document to explore.

As a scientist and citizen, Pauling believed that it was his duty to inform the public about advances in scientific understanding, but slowly, by dint of his institutional arrangement, he found himself growing gradually more distant from the scientific community. After publishing a few papers on nuclear physics and medical chemistry, and engaging in much discussion on world peace, Pauling found himself in a difficult situation: just a couple years after leaving Caltech, his home base for forty-one years, he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the CSDI.

The center’s lack of capacity to support scientific research, combined with the paucity of conclusions emerging from the center’s peace discussions, gradually increased Pauling’s appetite for new exploration. The scientific research that he could do on his own, without facilities or funding, was very limited. And in terms of politics and peace, the center was mostly engaged in theory; there was no specific cause for which it was fighting. And so it was that Pauling spent some time at his ranch in Big Sur brainstorming ideas on what to do with his time; researching UFOs was perhaps the most unorthodox notion to emerge from this period of reflection.

Linus Pauling, 1966.

Linus Pauling, 1966.

Pauling was quite familiar with reports of unidentified flying objects.  Scattered among the many letters that he received each day were a handful asking questions about strange noises in the night and films of white dust appearing in the hills. He also heard rumors about a UFO landing in Santa Fe. Being a long-running fan of science fiction himself, and feeling a duty to communicate scientific knowledge to the public, it is easy to see how Pauling could find importance in addressing the matter in a formal way.

Pauling’s 1966 research proposal, titled “A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects,” was divided into twelve main points. In each point, Pauling stated his intent to study everything from the authenticity and potential explanations of various reports, to the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin of human life. The proposal’s twelve points are suggestive of an ambitious project that would have required Pauling to tap into the fields of evolutionary biology, psychology and history, among others. But it is clear that Pauling’s intent for his study of UFOs was not to perform a scientific investigation of the phenomenon, but to discern and provide facts regarding reports of sightings and ideas about extraterrestrial interactions with human beings.

Pauling’s interest in the subject was not limited to the 1966 proposal. As late as 1968, Pauling wrote to Stirling Colgate, a physicist who was then President of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and inquired into an alleged siting of a flying saucer on the school’s campus. The correspondence reveals that the siting was a hoax, perpetrated by a New Mexico Tech student, but Pauling’s interest is indication that UFOs remained on his mind at least a couple of years after he drafted his proposal document.

It can be argued that Pauling’s seemingly abrupt interest in UFOs was an outgrowth of his experience at the CSDI. For much of his time at the center, it is clear that he was engaged in an intellectual quest to discover a way to use his talents for the benefit of the public. To his dissatisfaction, Pauling was unable to find exactly what he was looking for in Santa Barbara, and after three and a half years there, he began actively seeking out a new institutional home.

The time period, however, also stands as evidence of Pauling’s creativity in working in an environment with limited resources.  Though the UFO work never got off the ground, Pauling continued to pick up his pencil and slide rule and to research the natural world to the best of his abilities.  As a result, several publications resulted from this period of quiet investigation spent far afield from the scientific mainstream.

The Triple Revolution

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to "The Triple Revolution" memorandum, March 22, 1964.

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to “The Triple Revolution” memorandum, March 22, 1964.

[Part 4 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling’s connection with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) began before he and his wife moved to Santa Barbara. While in Pasadena, Pauling joined a group of social activists that called itself “The Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution.” Working under the auspices of the CSDI, the Ad Hoc Committee worked together to draft a memorandum addressed to President Lyndon B. Johnson and titled “The Triple Revolution.”

The memorandum was in turn circulated to select individuals and ultimately signed by thirty-five men, a collection of academics, journalists and left activists.  Noteworthy among these signatories were James Boggs, an auto worker and author of Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook; Todd Gitlin, President of Students for a Democratic Society; retired Brigadier General Hugh B. Hester; Gerard Piel, publisher of Scientific American; Bayard Rustin of the War Resisters League; and socialist leader Norman Thomas.  Also included were Linus Pauling and W.H. “Ping” Ferry, vice-president of the CSDI.

Linus Pauling, 1964.

Linus Pauling, 1964.

Submitted in March 1964, “The Triple Revolution” opens with a letter to the president in which the Ad Hoc Committee states its concern that Americans and their leaders are “unaware of the magnitude and acceleration of the changes going on around them.” The letter was signed by each of the committee members and was later published in pamphlet form alongside the main text of the “The Triple Revolution” memorandum.

“The Triple Revolution” states that three main socio-economic revolutions were occurring during the 1960s: the Weaponry Revolution, the Cybernation Revolution, and a Human Rights Revolution comprising civil rights movements all around the world. The piece also suggests that all three revolutions were the result of technological development and changes in the economy.

The Weaponry Revolution speaks to one of Linus Pauling’s greatest hopes: the end of war as a means of conflict resolution. In proposing that a weaponry revolution was in place, the memorandum elaborates on the topics of nuclear warfare and disarmament. The pamphlet suggests – as Pauling had often done before – that the threat of such weapons should steer nations to end the use of war altogether in order to avoid the destruction of modern civilization. While acknowledging the degree of difficulty of this undertaking, “The Triple Revolution” nevertheless holds on to the idea of a “warless world,” stating that it is a need acknowledged by most people.

The memorandum also suggests that a Cybernation Revolution was underway, meaning that the use of machines was slowly changing the roles assumed by people in the economy and society. The Ad Hoc Committee was concerned that those without the wealth to purchase or develop machines would be left without the opportunity to earn a living, should the economy switch to a purely machine-based means of production.

The members of the committee also believed that the Cybernation Revolution would cause an unequal distribution of wealth which would eventually lead to an unsustainable national economy. And, indeed, one of the proposals put forth in “The Triple Revolution” is an equal distribution of wealth, carried out as a necessary action to prevent future economic instability. The memorandum encourages the development of an economic system that compensates those who do not own machines and do not have access to the means of production; a concept the document refers to as “the right to an income.” The Ad Hoc Committee believed that groups like African Americans in the early 1960s existed in a social and legal situation that prevented them from owning machines, limiting their opportunities for economic development.

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee believed that, by the 1960s, societies around the world needed to recognize the dignity of each individual. The group likewise believed that the civil rights movement in the United States was only a local manifestation of a world-wide trend to reform political systems such that individuals could not be excluded on account of their race. “The Triple Revolution” thus describes the civil rights movement in the United States existing as part of a broader Human Right Revolution in place at the time.

The document suggests that the U.S. government had the power to lead American society through the changes being ushered in by the triple revolution, primarily by decreasing the amount of resources and attention given to military endeavors and increasing the attention given to those who are at a social disadvantage. The pamphlet concludes by stating that failure to seek solutions to the issues that arise when human labor is replaced by machines would exacerbate social inequality and lead to “misery and chaos.” But so too did it remain hopeful that, given proper leadership, societies could overcome the challenges presented by the changes of the 1960s.


Louisville Courier-Journal, March 23, 1964.

In presenting “The Triple Revolution” to the federal government, the Ad Hoc Committee identified itself as a group of concerned citizens. And though the text made sure to include the government in its suggestions for the future, the document was considered by many to be radically anti-government, and by some to be anti-American. In particular, many who opposed the views presented in “The Triple Revolution” worried about its apparent lack of appreciation for the military, as indicated by the pamphlet’s recommendations that resources used for military efforts be limited.  Media pundits were also quick to disparage the idea of a guaranteed income and its implications of creeping socialism.

Two weeks after receiving the document, the White House issued a short response to “The Triple Revolution,” stating that the President had taken measures to address the problems identified in the memorandum. The letter is signed by Assistant Special Counsel to the President Lee C. White, who is remembered for having advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights strategies. For the most part, the response uses general statements and examples as evidence that President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was considering the issues brought up by the memorandum. It is unclear whether Johnson ever read or even received the document personally.

Despite media opposition to the document and its quick dismissal by the government, other peace activists shared many of the views expressed in “The Triple Revolution.” One group, Women Strike for Peace – an organization in which Ava Helen Pauling was especially active – expressed many of the same views on world affairs when it organized a demonstration outside the Peace Palace at The Hague in 1964. Through their activism and intellectual product, the Ad Hoc Committee and Women Strike for Peace alike were issuing a demand that social inequalities be resolved both for the benefit of individual societies and also as a step toward international peace.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers