Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize


New York Times, October 11, 1963.

[Part 3 of 6]

On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling received word that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In this, he became the first person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes, a distinction that lives on today.

He and his wife, Ava Helen, were at Deer Flat Ranch – a property that the couple had actually purchased with the funds from Pauling’s 1954 Chemistry Prize – when the Peace Nobel was announced.  Pauling was notified that morning by his daughter Linda, and the unexpected news rendered him speechless.  The Big Sur ranch itself lacked a telephone, and Pauling wound up holding court at a nearby ranger station, granting several interviews and answering calls of congratulation. As reporters began to descend on the Paulings’ rural property, Ava Helen and Linus decided that it would be best to return to Pasadena to deal with whatever awaited them.



Linus Pauling and Gunnar Jahn, 1963.

As noted in Alfred Nobel’s will, a prize was to be set aside each year for “the person who shall have done the most or best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace.”  Pauling won this award in 1963 – receiving the prize that was held over and not awarded in 1962 – for his work on nuclear disarmament and his contributions to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, an agreement between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union that went into effect on the same day that the Nobel award was announced.

The story of why Pauling received the 1962 prize is interesting, and recounted by Pauling himself.  In a confidential “note to self” that he penned on November 21, 1962 – about eleven months before his Peace Prize announcement – Pauling documented a meeting that he had held that day with Gunnar Jahn.  Jahn was chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee from 1941 to 1966.

In his memo, Pauling wrote

On the morning of Tuesday 13 Nov., Gunnar Jahn telephoned me at the Bristol Hotel, Oslo, and asked us to come to his office at 11 A.M.  There he said to Ava Helen and me, in the presence of his secretary, Mrs. Elna Poppe, “I tried to get the Committee [of which he is the Chairman] to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to you [L.P.]; I think that you are the most outstanding peace worker in the world. But only one of the four would agree with me. I then said to them ‘If you won’t give it to Pauling, there won’t be any Peace Prize this year.'”

And indeed, there was not.

Pauling received two nominations for the Peace Prize in 1961, as well as one more in 1962 and another in 1963.  The year that he received the Prize, he was nominated by Gunnar Garbo, a Norwegian journalist, politician and ambassador.  And although many feel that Linus should have been nominated for the Peace Prize alongside Ava Helen – his long-time collaborator and inspiration in their shared peace effort – none of his Peace nominations was submitted as a split award.


Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

In a marked contrast from his Chemistry Prize, Pauling’s Peace award was not celebrated domestically with a lavish ceremony.  By 1963, Pauling’s activities in the peace realm had led to increased tensions at Caltech, and across the Institute, response to his Peace Prize was mixed at best.  His own research group was overjoyed at the honor, but the Caltech administration was unusually quiet concerning the prize and did not plan any sort of celebration in Pauling’s honor.

Although Linus and Ava Helen both felt that the Prize was vindication enough of the work they had done and the positions that they had taken, neither was at all satisfied with how the situation had unfolded at Caltech.  With the prize money from the Peace award forthcoming, the duo now had the flexibility to leave the Institute and pursue their work elsewhere.  Pauling announced his decision to do exactly this in October, just a week after finding out that he had won the prize, and after forty-one years of employment at Caltech.


By early December, although he had already cleared out his office, colleagues in the Biology department invited Pauling back to campus for a small gathering over coffee to honor his Nobel Peace Prize. This event proved to be the only recognition of Pauling’s achievement hosted at the Institute.



Image published in Arbeiderbladet, December 11, 1963. Annotaions by Linus Pauling.

Once in Scandinavia, the festivities likewise differed some from what he had experienced in Stockholm in 1954.  Pauling was awarded the Peace Prize on December 10, 1963 at Oslo University in Norway, an event attended by King Olav VI, Crown Prince Harald, and scores of additional Norwegian leaders and diplomats.  (In his will, Nobel decreed that the Peace Prize ceremony be held separately from the other Nobel Prize awards, which take place in Stockholm, Sweden.)

Also presented at the ceremony was the 1963 Peace Prize, granted jointly to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of the Red Cross Societies.  The International Committee had won the Peace Prize twice previously, in 1917 and 1944, and their 1963 centennial played a role in the selection of the two groups for the prize. As Pauling is the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, so too is the Red Cross unique in having been fundamental to four Peace Prizes – three received or shared by the organization, and another through affiliation with the group’s founder, Henry Dunant, co-honored with the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

At the ceremony, Pauling was called out for his campaign “not only against the testing of nuclear weapons, not only against the spread of these armaments, not only against their very use, but against all warfare as a means of solving international conflicts.”  Gunnar Jahn – Pauling’s champion from a year before – further explained that he was the natural choice for the 1963 award, due to the successful negotiation of the Partial Test Ban Treaty that July in Moscow.


Verdensgang (Olso), December 14, 1963.

Despite Jahn’s certainty on the matter, Pauling’s nomination had been made in the face of severe criticism, mostly centering on claims that Pauling was a Communist, that President John F. Kennedy should have received the award, or that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a better choice.  In his acceptance speech, Pauling explained that he believed the award to be a recognition not only of his work but also that “of the many other people who strive to bring hope for permanent peace to a world that now contains nuclear weapons.”

For Pauling, his wife was most prominent among the multitudes who had worked alongside him to pursue peace.  He made special note of her contributions in his formal Response at the Nobel event.

I wish that Alfred Nobel had not been a lonely man. I have not been lonely. Since 1923 I have had always at my side my wife, Ava Helen Pauling. In the fight for peace and against oppression she has been my constant and courageous companion and coworker. On her behalf, as well as my own, I express my thanks to Alfred Nobel and to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to me.



Pauling’s Nobel Peace medal, obverse.

Designed by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the Nobel Peace Prize medal features an image of Alfred Nobel that is different from the other medals, though it is accompanied by the same inscription – “Alfred Nobel” and his years of birth and death.  The reverse side of the medal portrays three men forming a fraternal bond and is inscribed with the words Pro pace et fraternitate gentium, which can be translated as “For the peace and brotherhood of men.”  On the outer edge, the words “Prix Nobel de la Paix”, the relevant year, and the name of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate are engraved.


Pauling’s Peace medal, reverse.

All Nobel Prize medals are accompanied by a diploma and a letter certifying the amount of the given year’s monetary award.  The cash prize in 1962 was $50,000, or approximately $386,204.00 in today’s dollars.  This sum amounted to roughly three years of Pauling’s Caltech salary.


Pauling’s Nobel Peace certificate.



New York Times, October 11, 1963.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, delivered a day after his Response, Pauling compared the desire of Alfred Nobel himself to create “a substance or a machine with such terrible power of mass destruction that war would thereby be made impossible forever,” to the hydrogen bomb against which the peace movement was working in 1963.  And though the creation and use of the atomic bomb during the Second World War had not led to peace, Pauling remained hopeful that peace would be attained, as nuclear weapons had now made a survivable war impossible.

“I believe that there will never again be a great world war,” he said, “a war in which the terrible weapons involving nuclear fission and nuclear fusion would be used.” Pauling felt that no dispute could justify the use of such a weapon, and that the threat of larger-scale retaliation would prevent first strikes.  This sentiment was present in many of the speeches and articles that he penned during this period.  In his Nobel lecture, Pauling expanded on the idea by explaining that

The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place.

And just as scientists had played a role in the development of weapons of war, so too would they be central to promoting peace in the nuclear age, because of the power that their informed opinions carried and the research that they could conduct to show just how harmful these bombs were.

In this, Pauling specifically mentioned the Pugwash Conferences series, which he believed “permitted the scientific and practical aspects of disarmament to be discussed informally in a thorough, penetrating, and productive way, and have led to some valuable proposals.”  Because of this, he felt the conferences – with which he had been active – to have been very helpful in seeing the Partial Test Ban Treaty through to ratification.


Stockholmns Tidinigen, December 19, 1963.

But there was still much work to do, in part because many people had not yet accepted disarmament as a valid route to maintaining peace.  For Pauling, disarmament was only a piece of the solution.  He felt that, for one, China, as the world’s most populous nation, needed to be accepted into the global community and recognized as a nation.  Doing so would allow the Chinese People’s Republic, a nuclear state, to join the disarmament agreement already signed by the United States and Soviet Union.

Pauling further proposed a joint system of control for nuclear stockpiles, one which would require consent from the United Nations before a weapon could be used.  While admittedly a lofty ambition, Pauling believed that “even a small step in the direction of this proposal, such as the acceptance of United Nations observers in the control stations of the nuclear powers” would decrease the probability of war, and doubly so if the proposal was paired with a system of inspection aimed at preventing the further production of biological or chemical weapons.  Advancements in this direction, Pauling believed, not only improved the odds for the long-term survival of the human race, but would also usher in a better life for all humans through the improvement of social, political, and economic systems.

Pauling’s Nobel Chemistry Prize



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

[Part 2 of 6]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

The Nobel Prizes: History and Mechanics


Alfred Nobel.

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

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

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


Portrait of Alfred Nobel by Emil Österman, 1915

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

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

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

He further directed that

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Henry Taube


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

[Ed Note: This is our final post for 2015.  Thanks for reading and please check back in early January for more!]

This month marks the 32nd anniversary of Henry Taube’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, awarded for ‘Electron Transfer between Metal Complexes.’ His seminal paper on the subject was 30 years old when he received the Nobel Prize, but the correlation that he described in it remained the predominant theory at the time of his receipt of the Nobel medal. Taube would have turned 100 this past November 30th , 2015. He died in 2005 in his home in Palo Alto, California at 89 years old.

Linus Pauling, for many years a friend of Taube, wrote to him in 1983 to congratulate him on his prize, calling it a “fine honor.” Pauling also kept a newspaper clipping announcing Taube’s Nobel in a collection of his personal memorabilia. In it, Taube attributed his success in Stockholm to a “domino theory” of scientific awards: once they started coming, you just seemed to get more of them. “I have to pay for it by giving a speech,” Taube said.  And indeed, Taube received numerous other decorations, including the Priestley Medal in 1985.

Born in the small town of Neudorf, Saskatchewan, Henry Taube was the youngest of four boys. The son of German immigrants who moved from the Ukraine and settled in Canada in 1911, Taube reflected fondly on his experiences growing up, noting

Certainly, there is nothing about my first 21 years in Saskatchewan, taken in the context of those times, that I would wish to be changed. The advantages that I enjoyed include: the marvelous experience of growing up on a farm, which taught me an appreciation of nature, and taught me also to discipline myself to get necessary jobs done.

Two years after the completion of his PhD at UC Berkeley in 1940, Taube became a naturalized citizen of the United States. As a young academic, he began studying the chemistry and photochemistry of non-metallic oxidants such as ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and halogens, and their reactions with a variety of inorganic and organic substances. Taube also worked on the subject of electron transfer in chemical reactions for most of his professional life, stating in his Nobel lecture that,

by an accident of history, I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, about the time the first natal stirrings of [this] subject occurred, and at a place where those stirring were most active.

His interest in the measurement of the rates of self-exchange reactions was shared by many, but not reflected in research or development for years to come. Students who might have harbored plans to carry out such experiments, Taube later pointed out, became engaged in war-related activities instead.

Taube’s first academic appointment was as an assistant professor at Cornell, where he engaged in the study of oxidation-reduction reactions, or redox reactions. In 1943 he began his correspondence with Linus Pauling, asking him to visit Cornell and deliver a lecture on antibody reactions, one of Pauling’s areas of specialty at the time. Pauling declined, stating that he would not be traveling in the vicinity of Ithaca any time soon. Taube tried again to meet with Pauling while on a trip to UCLA in 1949, but Pauling was out of his office.

It is something of an irony that Taube, anxious to connect with such an eminent figure in chemistry, would become the chair of a department where Pauling would work later in life. While the pair did not have much luck connecting in the 1940s, forty years later they would regard one another as close companions.


As an associate professor at the University of Chicago, Taube studied charge transfer complexes, describing metal-ligand bonds in terms of molecular orbital language. As a result, the new field of mixed-valence compounds began to develop. Taube’s continued study in this area united the divergent disciplines of classical coordination chemistry and organometallic chemistry, bringing inorganic chemistry into a more modern age.

Taube’s contributions were notable as confusion between thermodynamic and kinetic stability of coordination compounds had plagued coordination chemistry for decades, hindering theoretical advancement in the field. Classical coordination chemistry was created by Alfred Werner in 1893, with little groundbreaking work in the area come to pass in the four decades following. At this same time, organic and biological chemistry were progressing in exciting ways, in no small part due to work being conducted by Linus Pauling. Indeed, in organic chemistry, Pauling’s influence is ubiquitous: the mechanisms of organic substitution reactions, the discovery of biochemical cycles and molecular disease, the role of vitamins and antibiotics – all were touched by his genius. But for inorganic chemistry, even Pauling’s valence bond theory did not prompt advancement. This all began to change with Henry Taube.

By shifting focus from classical coordination chemistry toward the mechanisms of redox reactions, Taube affected an important shift that revitalized inorganic chemistry. Specifically, Taube established a dichotomy between inert and labile complexes, using valence bond theory to frame the definitions of these metal ions. The effect on inorganic chemistry was so monumental, it has since been dubbed by some as the “Taube Revolution.” Published in 1952, Taube’s “Rates and Mechanism of Substitution Reactions in Inorganic Complexes in Solution” is a foundational work. This was an important personal year for Taube as well; it was the year that he married his wife, Mary. They would have four children; Karl, Heinrich, Linda and Marianna.

By the early 1970s, Taube was chairman of the Chemistry Department at Stanford University, where Pauling too was a faculty member. When Pauling was reclassified as an emeritus member of the faculty in 1972, a memo from Taube to Calvin Quate, the associate dean of humanities and sciences at Stanford, made his opinion of Pauling’s situation clear: “Linus Pauling’s contributions to our department are much valued,” Taube clarified for Quate. “It is the intention of the Executive Committee to recommend reappointment on a year-by-year basis for as long as he continues to be effective in supervising a research program.”

The following year, Pauling wrote to Taube to express concern about his position. In his response, Taube pointed out that, though now classified as a professor emeritus, the administration’s action did not change Pauling’s current appointment as regular faculty, which would remain in force until 1974. After that time, as indicated by Taube in his memo to Quate, Pauling would continue to be reappointed as long as he remained “productive in scientific work.” Taube added, “I feel confident that the change in nominal status next fall will not interfere with your scientific program.”

Over the years, the two men enjoyed a lively correspondence on many issues related to work and pleasure. Taube sent Pauling reprints of his papers, and asked Pauling just before receiving his Nobel Prize, “When you first formulated your ideas on back bonding, did you have any inkling of what its ramifications might be?” (in this, Taube was referring to his own work with redox reactions in metal complexes.) Taube added, “After things settle down, post-Stockholm, Mary and I hope to get together with you again socially.”

Taube also referred to Pauling as the living person whom he most admired, and the two saw eye to eye on many issues. In particular, Taube used his position as a Nobel laureate to argue for educational reform and nuclear disarmament, which he saw as the country’s most important issues in the 1980s. “I’m appalled not that the general public tends to be rather ignorant,” Taube explained, “but they don’t even care about the scientific issues.” All informed citizens, Taube thought, needed to know the basics, and in this he agreed with Pauling. “The training that science teachers get simply isn’t adequate for the job in the elementary schools,” he said. “The solution is to improve science teaching for teachers, and pay them a wage commensurate with their responsibilities.”

taube in lab

Though in many ways Taube is to inorganic chemistry what Pauling was to the organic side, Taube’s work has also been described as setting the stage for electron transfer studies in organic areas, including peptides, proteins, and other complex biomolecules –  all areas of study crucial to many of Pauling’s interests. This is presumably one reason why Pauling recruited Taube to support the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

The connection between Taube and the Institute began very early on, in 1972, when Pauling suggested to him that some of Taube’s graduate students might be interested in also working on orthomolecular studies with either himself or his assistant, Arthur B. Robinson. Twelve years later, in 1984, Pauling wrote to Taube asking him to join the Institute’s board of associates. Taube accepted, despite the fact that the Institute was involved in a very public battle with the Mayo Clinic, one based on what Pauling described in his letter as, “a thoroughly misleading account of [the Institute’s] work.”

In 1987 Pauling asked his friend to become even more involved, writing that he was pleased to tell him that the Board of Trustees had authorized him to ask Taube to join their rank and file. Taube accepted this position as well, but ultimately resigned in 1989, stating that he could “provide little help in solving the kind of [largely financial] problem that the Institute faces,” and that he believed he was “usurping an opportunity for service which others, of greater influence in financial or medico-scientific circles, could better fill.” Pauling was disappointed and disagreed with the decision, but responded simply that it would not otherwise impact Taube’s connection to the Institute.

Henry Taube’s love of chemistry and the impact that he made on the field seemed sometimes unbelievable to the man himself. Humble by nature, Taube offered in his Nobel lecture that he had only, “focused rather narrowly on electron transfer reactions between metal complexes.”

While Pauling and many others recognized and cited the importance of his work in developing a general principle of electron transfer, Taube remained much more cautious in his assessment. The principles that he had derived, Taube pointed out, manifested differently in different materials and reactions. Consequently, the descriptive chemistry of such relationships could be quite different.

Nonetheless, Taube saw these differing manifestations as an exciting challenge, describing them in his Nobel lecture as “the fabric of chemistry.”  In this love of scientific inquiry and the quest for a better understanding of the natural world, Taube was once again reunited with his close friend, Linus Pauling.


Vitamin C and Cancer: Rays of Hope



[Part 4 of 4]

Ridiculed by the medical profession for two decades, the tide began to shift for vitamin C and cancer starting in 1992. That year, the New York Academy of Sciences voted to discuss high-dose vitamins and nutrients at its annual meeting, devoting several sessions to the antioxidant properties of vitamin C and its potential value at higher-than-dietary amounts in preventing lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancers.

Oddly, throughout the proceedings, one prominent name had been missing from the conversation, a point noted by a professor from Alabama who finally spoke up, saying,

For three days I have been listening to talks about the value of large intakes of vitamin C and other natural substances, and I have not heard a single mention of the name Linus Pauling. Has not the time come when we should admit that Linus Pauling was right all along?

Since 1996 the Linus Pauling Institute, relocated from California, has continued work on cancer from it’s new home at Oregon State University. Basing these contemporary orthomolecular studies on the hard sciences of cellular biology, molecular biology, and organic chemistry, the Institute continues to explore the cutting edge of health and nutrition research.

Working under Dr. Balz Frei, the current director of the Institute, as well as former LPI principal investigator Dr. Roderick Dashwood (now director of the Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention at Texas A&M University), OSU student Matt Kaiser has spent time analyzing the benefits of vitamin C treatment for colorectal cancer, which remains the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States. The Pauling Blog has interviewed Kaiser in the past, and we met with him again recently to gain a better sense of trends in the community of researchers interested in vitamin C and cancer.


One primary question that begs further exploration is, why didn’t earlier studies find evidence of the value of vitamin C?

As it turns out, the problem appears to have been primarily located in the way that vitamin C was being administered. The 1979 Mayo studies to which Pauling so strongly objected had assumed that, since vitamin C was filtered out of the body after a certain point of blood saturation, higher doses need not be examined. This assumption – that excess vitamin C could not be absorbed and was simply excreted in the urine – was one of the most basic issues of contention that Pauling was never able to get past with the medical community. However, it now appears that the assumption applies only if vitamin C is taken as an oral supplement, a breakthrough that was first identified by Mark Levine, a Senior Investigator at the National Institutes of Health.

Matt Kaiser explains

Mark Levine realized in the 1990s that the way drugs are distributed and function in the body [pharmacokinetics] can drastically change the amount of vitamin C entering blood plasma. Eating vitamin C you can only get about 250 micromolar [a measure of vitamin C, or ascorbate— to use its chemical name— that can be concentrated in the blood stream]. With intravenous injection, the levels are much larger: 200 times. One millimole is a thousand micromoles, so 30 millimolar [of ascorbate in blood plasma] is a huge difference!

At these high pharmacological— or even super physiological— doses, Levine found that cancer cell populations dropped significantly. To understand why, it is important to know a bit about how cancer works.

Human DNA can wrap up tight (heterochromatin) or unwind into a loose, more open configuration (euchromatin). When it is wrapped up tight, the genetic information on the DNA cannot be expressed. This is because transcription, which is the process by which a cell reads and expresses the genetic code, requires access to DNA.

There are very specific times when DNA should be wrapped tight to maintain optimum health, and other times when one’s body needs to be able to use the instructions for cellular function that are contained in DNA. When DNA needs to be unwound, molecules called histone acetyltransferases (HATs) help to unwind it. When it needs to be wound up tight, the process is aided by histone deacetylases (HDACs).

HDAC overexpression is a hallmark of cancer cells, and hyperactive HDAC cells lead to messy, knotted DNA winding. This biological circumstance hinders the cell from reading important instructions found in DNA, which in turn prevents the production of important tumor suppressor proteins. At the same time, it leaves certain sections of the genetic code open that should not be expressed.

“Basically,” says Kaiser, “You remove the break from the car, and then you also step on the gas. And that’s cancer.”


Matthew Kaiser.

The prevailing theory of how vitamin C acts on tumors is that it functions as a “prodrug,” meaning that it stimulates biochemical processes that allow something else to kill the cancer cell, rather than acting on it directly. In this case, the active agent is hydrogen peroxide, which is produced in saturated tissues by excess vitamin C. “Vitamin C acts as the Trojan horse that allows hydrogen peroxide to enter the tumor site,” Kaiser explains. “You can’t inject it straight in; your body will react too strongly. Hydrogen peroxide is a reactive oxygen species…it tears cells apart.”

However, since working on the project, Kaiser has found that this consensus on how vitamin C fights cancer isn’t necessarily the whole story. Pharmacological levels of ascorbate appear to selectively reduce the presence of proteins that regulate reactive oxygen species, like hydrogen peroxide, in cancerous cells. Some of these same proteins also happen to promote cell growth, which is not something that one would wish for cancer cells to do. In addition to producing hydrogen peroxide, ascorbate actually inhibits the runaway HDAC production that makes cancer cells so dangerous.

“What makes it really hard, really complicated,” Kaiser laments, “is that this might not work the same way for different types of cancer cells in different locations. There’s still so much to understand about how vitamin C is having this protective effect…That’s what’s lacking and that’s why we need studies like this.”


And indeed, more studies are coming. In keeping with it’s mission to extend and promote what it calls “healthspan,” LPI hosts a bi-annual Diet and Optimum Health Conference, bringing together experts from around the world to talk about topics in orthomolecular medicine, among other fields. This year the conference, which was held at OSU in September, featured several speakers discussing vitamin C and cancer. One of them was Dr. Mark Levine, the NIH scientist who first showed the value of intravenous ascorbate.

Margreet Vissers and Anita Carr, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, also described their own advances on the subject. Vissers found in her studies that levels of 50 micromolar ascorbate in blood plasma (average dietary levels are between 40 and 80) had little to no protective effect against cancer. Doubling the amount to 100 micromolar, however, boosted a patient to the lowest level of the protective range. It would seem, then, that Pauling was right to suggest that mega doses might be important for optimum health.

Vissers also explained that, in animal models, ascorbate injected intravenously will peak after about twenty hours in both healthy tissue and in tumors. However, unlike the healthy tissue, tumor tissues hold onto the vitamin C and do not return to a natural baseline. This detail is important because it allows high doses of ascorbate to build up in tumor tissue, and these doses disproportionately kill cancer cells instead of healthy tissues for reasons that are still not fully understood.

Conversely, the dangers of using vitamin C, even in high intravenous doses, appear to be small. While some people harbor an enzymatic deficiency that can cause a severe negative reaction, most individuals simply cannot overdose on vitamin C. Even in the blood plasma, vitamin C usually reaches a saturation point and is filtered from the body.

At the LPI conference, Dr. Carr pointed out that this form of treatment also dramatically improves the quality of life of cancer patients as compared to chemotherapy. For one, vitamin C treatments involve significantly less pain, mental and physical fatigue, nausea and insomnia. As of March 2015, three clinical trials involving pharmacological levels of ascorbate have been conducted, all of them showing that it is well tolerated by patients and reduces chemotherapy-related toxicity.

Additionally, vitamin C at high doses is known to aid cognitive function, and these positive benefits work together to aid in social satisfaction for the patient. As Pauling pointed out in the 1970s, it is not only the disease that the doctor should be concerned about treating, but the patient as well.


Pauling in 1989 – an extraordinary life. Photo by Paolo M. Sutter.

So is Linus Pauling vindicated when it comes to vitamin C and cancer? The answer is complicated.

On the one hand, it would appear that vitamin C can serve as an important preventative and treatment for cancer. However, the method that Pauling advocated— taking large supplemental doses orally— is pretty clearly not an effective form of application. Rather, contemporary research indicates that the levels of ascorbate that are required to slow or stop tumor growth are far greater than that which can be achieved naturally by ingesting vitamin C; they can be accomplished only by intravenous injections of ascorbate. Furthermore, it is likely that this form of treatment will not replace, but instead will augment, existing protocols including chemotherapy.

But the broader trend is optimistic and, one might argue, validating. And with the Linus Pauling Institute and many others around the world continuing to investigate the potential for vitamin C and other nutrients to help people live longer and feel better, exciting new studies on optimum diet and effective treatments for diseases like cancer would appear to be on the near horizon.

Vitamin C and Cancer: Raising the Stakes


Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. Glasgow, Scotland, October 1976.

[Part 3 of 4]

By 1970, the year that Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, the federal government’s “war on cancer” was soon to arrive. The National Cancer Act, passed in 1971, increased federal funding for treatment and prevention research, embracing cytotoxic treatment solutions like chemotherapy. That same year, Pauling began to push for investigations between nutrition and cancer, especially concerning vitamin C. Since the role of vitamin C in immune defense is arguably much less significant than Pauling supposed, the idea that intake of vitamin C should prevent or treat cancer seemed ludicrous to many physicians. Incredibly, evidence is now emerging that the opposite might be true.

In hindsight, there is a tendency for critics to see Pauling simply as a politically liberal proponent of alternative medicine; one who lashed out against a consumerist medical establishment that was firmly supported by conservative citizens, among others. However, proponents of alternative health and holism in the 1960s and 1970s prescribed to a broad range of political ideologies; Pauling was just one among many people who were searching for better preventative and alternative treatments.

In 1980, when Pauling was actively campaigning for a vitamin C treatment for cancer, Americans spent 13.1 billion dollars on cancer diagnosis and treatment. Five years later, a survey of over one-thousand individuals showed that a majority believed clinics using unorthodox cancer therapies should be permitted to operate in the U.S., and just over half said they would seek alternative treatment if seriously ill.

Pauling and his ideological positions are remembered now as having been central to the vitamin C “movement.” Perhaps this is because he was renowned in many arenas and easily attracted a great deal of media attention. Or perhaps, especially knowing his penchant for protesting against nuclear weapons testing and war, this was another issue on which Pauling was the most outspoken opponent of what he saw as a wrong to be made right.


Table from “Ascorbic acid and cancer: a review”, co-authored by Pauling and Cameron, 1979.

For Pauling, the continuing suffering of cancer victims was unnecessary, since a useful treatment was already cheap and readily available. He argued that,

The involvement of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the natural defense mechanisms is now known to be so great that we hope that a really significant control of cancer might be achieved by the proper use of ascorbic acid.

Of the studies that Pauling found so convincing, none were as crucial as those conducted at the Vale of Leven Hospital, near Glasgow, Scotland. There, Dr. Ewan Cameron found that mega doses of vitamin C (10 grams daily or more) seemed to slow and even reverse cancerous growth in some patients. He wrote to Pauling in 1971, who eagerly responded that this “attack” on cancer was the most promising application of vitamin C that he knew of.  Pauling, who had been studying the role of dietary vitamin C in issues of orthomolecular psychiatry such as schizophrenia, now shifted his focus to cancer.

Far from being the flaky alternative health guru that many came to see him as, Pauling’s work with vitamin C— like all his research on the subject of orthomolecular medicine (a field that he spearheaded)— was consistent with a biomedical model of molecular disease. Since Pauling saw this work as fitting within the framework of molecular biology, it was frequently unclear to him why the medical community resisted what was, to him, a straightforward and significant scientific endeavor.

Further complicating matters was the fact that Stanford University, Pauling’s academic home at the time, rejected his request for additional lab space to pursue cancer research. Now the target of regular media pummelings, Pauling’s ideas were becoming a potential source of bad press for the university. Refusing to take no for an answer, Pauling and his young lab assistant, Arthur Robinson, solicited private funding to continue their work on vitamin C outside of the university setting. Raising $50,000 in donations from wealthy supporters of vitamin therapies, the duo helped to found the Institute for Orthomolecular Medicine in 1973, subsequently renamed the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine (LPISM) one year later.

From 1973 to 1976, Pauling published co-authored articles with Cameron, who continued to study the effects of vitamin C on cancer from his base in Glasgow. And in 1975, Pauling and Robinson secured additional funds to begin their own animal testing. Two years later, the collaborators began reporting their results in the Institute’s newsletter.  In 1979 Cameron and Pauling likewise published an extensive review article in Cancer Research that cited previous studies corroborating their own conclusions. The duo published their book, Cancer and Vitamin C, that same year.

Sci 11.044, 44.14

A sample of Pauling’s notes compiled in response to the Mayo Clinic trials, 1979.

Cameron and Pauling’s data seemed to show that vitamin C would be especially valuable for cancer patients. Whereas a daily intake of 10 g of vitamin C in a healthy individual would bring the vitamin C level in the blood to a saturation point that could not be exceeded by increasing or prolonging intake, cancer patients showed a different pattern. Known already to have abnormally low blood levels of vitamin C, the patients in fact achieved just over half the same level of vitamin C blood saturation found in healthy individuals subscribing to a daily intake of 10 grams. For those afflicted with cancer, it was seen as necessary to take 10 grams a day just to reach the normal level of vitamin C found in healthy individuals who did not take supplements at all.

To Pauling, this alone justified continued research on the matter. After persistently stating his case to Dr. Vincent De Vita, director of the National Cancer Institute, two rounds of trials were conducted through the Mayo Clinic to solve what the medical community perceived to be problems in Cameron’s studies. When the trials indeed failed to produce anything like Cameron’s results, funding effectively dried up for vitamin C research – a significant blow to LPISM’s functional well-being.

In response, Pauling and his supporters argued that the Mayo Clinic was missing the point. The Mayo trials had attempted to measure the effectiveness of vitamin C in a manner similar to drug treatments, because the advent of chemotherapy and antibiotics, and the biases of the pharmaceutical industry, had placed primary medical emphasis on the disease, and not on the patient. Pauling saw the results of the Mayo studies not as a definitive defeat, but as the triumph of a complex of interdependent federal and private organizations that held a vested interest in supporting the chemotherapy status quo.

Pauling had claimed that, with vitamin C, lifespan could be increased, tumors could regress, and even full recovery was possible. For many in the medical community, these were not only foolish assertions, they were dangerous as well.

Dr. Charles Moertel, chairman of the Department of Oncology at the Mayo Clinic, was particularly vocal in his rebuke, stating that

For such a message to be conveyed to desperate and dying people, with the endorsement of a Nobel laureate, the presumption must be that it is based on impeccable scientific methodology.

Moertel’s implication, of course, was that Pauling’s argument was instead based on unsound science and certainly lacked the scientific basis to challenge the use of chemotherapy.

Yet vitamin C retained a broad appeal because many saw the prevailing treatment, and its manifold side effects, as inhumane. John Cairn, head of the Mill Hill Laboratory of the British Imperial Cancer Research Fund, provided a voice to the other side the coin by calling out the survivorship data. To wit: in 1986, 200,000 patients were receiving chemotherapy and, by 1991, five year survival rates for colon cancer remained at just 53%. Cairn spoke for many in suggesting that, when it came to the prevailing course of treatment, “the benefit for most categories of patients has yet to be established.”


Ava Helen Pauling, June 1981.

For Pauling, the debate turned from the public to the personal when, at the height of his study of vitamin C, his wife Ava Helen was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Following Ewan Cameron’s advice, she took 10 grams of vitamin C daily, and did not receive chemotherapy.  Throughout her treatment, Linus clung to the belief that mega doses of vitamin C would work for Ava Helen, just as it had for Cameron’s success stories in Scotland.

“Daddy was convinced that he was going to save her,” remembered Linus and Ava Helen’s daughter, Linda. “And that was, I think, the only reason he was able to survive… He said to me after she died that until five days before, he thought he was going to be able to save her.”

Ava Helen Pauling passed away in December of 1981. And though he was badly shaken by his wife’s death, belief in the value of vitamin C in the fight against cancer did not fade from Pauling’s mind. Suffice it to say, the medical community remained whole-heartedly unconvinced.

Vitamin C and the Common Cold: Pauling vs. the Physicians


Diary entry by Linus Pauling, 1980. The text reads: “L[inus] P[auling] / Found enzymes enthralling / He was filled with glee / By Vitamin C”

[Part 2 of 4]

As a double Nobel laureate, Linus Pauling’s recommendation that everyone ingest 1 to 4 grams of vitamin C daily developed into a media frenzy. And with time, the debate took on a distinctly political flavor, with the battle over vitamin C argued on talk shows and in press releases, rather than vindicated in the lab.

Pauling’s accusations that the medical establishment was ignoring the potentially profound benefits of vitamin C in part because of a mutually beneficial relationship with Big Pharma did not, as one might expect, go over well with many medical professionals. Indeed, his work with vitamin C was written off by many as a passing craze, and Pauling was increasingly referred to as a “kook” and a medical “quack.”

Sci 11.022, 22.1

Notes by Linus Pauling regarding vitamin C and the common cold, 1974.

As Pauling and the physicians went back and forth, the two sides sometimes found themselves citing the same data and producing opposite conclusions. Often Pauling argued that the studies under consideration – discarded by dissenting physicians for apparently showing negligible effects – actually suggested a real value to the use of vitamin C that would be amplified if only larger doses were used.

One study in particular, authored in 1942 by A.J. Glazebrook and Scott Thomson, found vitamin C to only slightly decrease the occurrence of colds and their symptoms in a sample of college students. For proponents, the work was heralded nonetheless as significant evidence in vitamin C’s favor. The problem, Pauling believed, was that physicians expected vitamin C to act like a drug, with a concomitant “tendency…to use relatively small amounts and look for big effects.” But vitamin C wasn’t a drug, it was a nutrient, and Pauling thought its effects would not be easily observed in a typical physician’s research paradigm.

In an effort to put the issue to rest, a University of Maryland study in which eleven prisoners were given 3 grams of vitamin C a day for two weeks found that, when inoculated with cold viruses, each subject became ill. While many considered this proof that Pauling was wrong, he dismissed this study as well. For one, it lacked a placebo control group and did not take the severity of symptoms into account. Pauling likewise suspected that the prisoners were infected with a cold virus potent enough to have overwhelmed any protective effect from vitamin C.

On and on the debate raged and, by the time of Pauling’s death in 1994, little consensus had been reached: Pauling stood firm in his beliefs and the physicians hadn’t from their position.


Harri Hemilä

Today, while Pauling’s faith in and advocacy of vitamin C has endured in the public consciousness, it has not translated into concrete medical practice. Presently, the United States Food and Nutrition Board has set the Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin C at 120 mg at the highest (for pregnant women), nearly three times greater than the RDA in the 1970s, but still about 100 times lower than the levels that Pauling believed to be optimal.

So what does the research really show? Is there, in fact, zero evidence that Vitamin C prevents or cures colds, as the Food and Drug Administration once claimed?

Perhaps the best summation of the current state of affairs has been compiled by Dr. Harri Hemilä, a researcher in public health at the University of Helsinki. Hemilä, whose 2005 comprehensive study on the subject is cited by the National Institutes of Health, makes a number of intriguing points.

For one, Hemilä points out that, while the broad body of research seems to indicate that vitamin C supplementation does not decrease cold incidence in most individuals, it does significantly decrease incidence in marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers – all groups subject to consistent exposure to cold weather or physical stress – by as much as 50%. Daily supplements also appear to decrease the symptoms and duration of colds by a modest degree – observations of 14% in children and 8% in adults.

It is important to note that studies of this sort have used what Pauling would have considered to be minimum dosages for optimal health – 1 to 2 grams daily. To date, few investigations have looked into doses higher than 2 grams, presumably because it is known that, for oral doses of more than 1 gram, absorption rates fall below fifty percent. The operating idea then, is that for supplementation above 2 grams, most of the extra vitamin C is unused and excreted in one’s urine.

Yet there does exist some evidence of a more significant impact at higher dosage levels. Hemilä’s survey of the research concludes that, in some studies, doses larger than 2 grams do appear to provide some measure of therapy, if taken at the onset of cold symptoms.

Digging more deeply into the data, however, one finds conflicting results. In one study, taking 8 grams once at the onset of symptoms appeared to decrease symptoms and duration of colds. In another, 10 gram doses were given for three days during a cold, without impact.

Obviously, when trying to measure the impact of any therapy on the progression of an illness – particularly one as protean as the common cold – numerous co-factors can enter the equation. It would seem then that a thoughtful modern study of vitamin C – one that carefully considers the methodology of those conducted in the past – is still needed before we can be certain of its potential impact on the common cold.


Had Pauling invested in proving his point in the lab after the publication of Vitamin C and Common Cold, perhaps we would have a better understanding of the immune function of this nutrient today. But Pauling felt vitamin C’s protective effects against the cold were not seriously debatable and that, for him, it was time to move on. The physicians, he believed, were set in their ways – a description he often used during the long argument over vitamin C – and it was pointless for him to spend too much of his time and energy trying to disprove them.

Indeed, in Pauling’s mind, there were more important issues to take into the lab than the common cold. Because Pauling wasn’t just busy arguing that vitamin C could cure the common cold. He believed that it might cure cancer, too.



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