Fifty Years of the Linus Pauling Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Corliss Lamont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Funny Story from Andy Warhol

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

As recorded by Warhol in his diary:

Thursday, November 21, 1985

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caught in the act.

A Lecture Interrupted and a Campus Torn Apart

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[Part 2 of 2]

The Oregon State University Black Student Union’s (BSU) decision to interrupt a convocation featuring Linus Pauling and to stage a subsequent walkout off of campus were sparked by an incident involving an African American student athlete at OSU. As documented in multiple later accounts, on February 22, 1969 OSU football player Fred Milton broke team rules by refusing to shave his goatee.  Although this conflict occurred during the off-season, Oregon State football coach Dee Andros – an ex-Marine affectionately known as “The Great Pumpkin” – believed that he still maintained authority over his players and their appearance.  Andros gave Milton a forty-eight hour deadline to comply with the team rule. If he continued to resist, he would be cut from the team, which would mean he would also lose his OSU scholarship.

The BSU took on Milton’s cause and began planning peaceful measures to publicly express their solidarity and to bring awareness to the struggles that African American students were facing on the OSU campus. The actions that the agreed to put in play included a sit-in at a public event, a class boycott, and a campus walkout. The group also began publishing an underground newspaper, The Scab Sheet, which they viewed to be an important alternative to the OSU Daily Barometer, the student daily that had assumed an editorial stance tfavorable to Andros’ perspective.

The BSU believed the Milton case to be an infringement of a student’s rights to individual self-expression.  The group also pointed out that this was not the first black student athlete who had come into conflict with Andros’ policies; in the past, others had been told to keep their hair short and to not wear medallions.  BSU President Mike Smith explained that, although the policies were extended across the athletic department, they were based on standards set by white society, and that black student athletes were pressured to conform to them.

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OSU football coach Dee Andros holding telegrams of support, March 1969.

The first of the BSU’s peaceful protest actions began with a sit-in at a campus lecture, which was to be given by Linus Pauling on the morning of February 25, 1969.  The speech, titled “Advancement of Knowledge: Ortho-Molecular Psychiatry,” was one of seven presentations scheduled over three days as part of the OSU centenary celebration. The series celebrated the first hundred years of Oregon State by looking toward the future with a general theme of “The Second Hundred Years.” To encourage campus participation, the university cancelled all classes that conflicted with the seven presentations.  The formal lectures were to be followed by a discussion period in which students would be given the opportunity to dialogue with each of the invited speakers.

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Pauling’s speech is interrupted during his introduction. Pauling, seated, is obscured at right by the state of Oregon flag.

As Pauling was being introduced, an estimated seventy Black Student Union members and supporters filed into Gill Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena and the location for Pauling’s lecture. The BSU students subsequently took control of the dais, while Pauling remained seated. Mike Smith, the BSU president, and sophomore defensive back Rich Harr explained the group’s reasons for staging the interruption and also announced a boycott of athletic events that would start that weekend.  The speakers likewise called for white student support, noting that this was not just about the treatment of black student athletes, but of all students on campus. These sentiments were repeated later at a rally held in front of OSU’s Memorial Union.

After about twenty minutes, the protesters left the gym.  The large crowd that had assembled for Pauling’s talk gave a mixed response, though the majority of students applauded the BSU’s statements.  In an oral history interview conducted in 2011, OSU chemistry professor emeritus Ken Hedberg, a close friends of Pauling’s, remembered the participants as having been “very well behaved.”

A strong supporter of individual rights, Pauling was uncertain as to why Milton could not wear a beard and later noted that he never succeeded in receiving a straight answer from the university’s administration concerning the rationale for this policy. Paulng also expressed a belief that the sentiment displayed on his alma mater’s campus mirrored trends at other universities and that, as with many other institutions, the roots of these brewing conflicts lay mostly with the administration’s inability to recognize the problem and to take measures to fix it.

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In the days following the lecture sit-in, OSU President James Jensen took steps to reconcile with the BSU, but he did not meet with success. On March 1, the BSU announced the next in its series of actions to stand up for the rights of African American students at OSU.  Class boycotts followed on March 4with hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joining in support.  Athletic events were also boycotted both at OSU and elsewhere, and black athletes in the PAC-8 joined the protest by refusing to participate in games against OSU.

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On March 5, forty-seven black students – essentially the entire African American student population at the school – marched out of the main gate on the east side of OSU’s campus. The walkout began with a rally held in the Memorial Union that included a talk delivered by BSU president Mike Smith.  Speaking to a gathering of more than 1,000 faculty and students, Smith stressed that black students could no longer accept “the plantation logic” upheld by the administration and athletic department at OSU, a “hallowed institution of racism.”  Reporting on these events the next day, the Scab Sheet suggested that the OSU walkout was the first of its kind at an American college or university.

The Oregon State BSU chapter was joined in the walkout by over 100 members from the University of Oregon’s Black Student Union, who chartered buses and drove up to Corvallis to participate in solidarity.  There was also a rally held in sympathy at Portland State University to support the actions on OSU’s campus.  The president of PSU’s Black Student Union spoke at the rally and condemned OSU’s “policy of tradition” as being “not in accord with what’s going on today.”

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African American students walking off the OSU campus, March 5, 1969.

On March 6 the OSU Faculty Senate convened and passed an amended version of an “Administrative Proposal” that had been drafted by the school’s Office of Minority Affairs. This proposal included the creation of a Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities.

The following day, three students withdrew from the university to seek education elsewhere. In response, the Faculty Senate met again to declare an emergency, an action which allowed the students who withdrew to receive an incomplete on their transcripts rather than a failing grade. Faculty members at the University of Oregon also met around this time to consider a proposal that would allow black students from OSU to be admitted as expediently as possible, should they choose to pursue their education at the university.

In an editorial, the Scab Sheet expressed a lack of surprise that the black students had left. After all,

Arrayed against them was a coalition of the University administration, the Athletic Department, the various athletic supporters, white athletes, Chamber of Commerce and alumni.

Furthermore, the university had earned a reputation for being ill-prepared to deal with minority students, and had compiled a record of inaction in handling problems of this sort. In fact, as explained by the president of the Associated Students of OSU, inaction seemed to be the university’s current formal policy.  Indeed, one year before, the university had turned back over $100,000 in federal funds that had been earmarked for the recruitment of minority students.  In the view of the Scab Sheet, the situation had deteriorated “to the point that blacks could maintain pride and self-respect only by disassociating themselves completely from Oregon State University.”

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The departure of many black students from OSU’s campus in 1969 altered student demographics for many years to come and exacted lasting damage to the university’s reputation within multiple communities. With respect to athletics, Dee Andros was not able to convince a single African American player to join his 1970 recruiting class, and from 1971 to 1998, OSU’s football teams posting losing records, still the longest run of futility in the history of Division I football.

Fred Milton, whose refusal to shave his beard brought decades of tensions to a head, ultimately transferred to Utah State University. Milton later enjoyed a successful career at IBM and Liberty Mutual Insurance, before moving into the public sector as a civil servant working for the city of Portland and Multnomah County. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 62.

Though a painful moment in OSU history, the actions taken by the BSU in winter 1969 led to direct and meaningful changes on the Corvallis campus. Later that year, OSU established the Educational Opportunities Program, which was designed to help recruit and retain students of color. Three cultural centers were also established on campus, each a mechanism for creating community spaces for students of color and a platform for sharing these students’ experience with the broader university community.

The 1969 Black Student Union Walkout

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African American students leaving the OSU campus through its west gate, February 25, 1969.

[Ed Note: We recently received a collection of photographs documenting an important moment in the history of Oregon State University – a walkout of African American students led by OSU’s Black Student Union in winter 1969. While this is largely an OSU story, Linus Pauling did play a role in the event, which we’ll explore this week and next.]

The racial tensions that escalated throughout the 1960s and that made an imprint on universities all across the United States were evident on the campus of Oregon State University as well. In a description that accompanied a photo collection recently accessioned by the OSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center, photographer Gwil Evans, who was a Journalism professor at OSU at the time, provided some background on event that served as a pivot point for race relations at Oregon State near the end of the 1960s.

In his notes, Evans explained that, on February 25, 1969, members of the OSU Black Student Union interrupted a convocation hosted by President James Jensen at OSU’s Gill Coliseum. The convocation, which was part of a series of events marking the university’s centenary, was to feature a speech by Linus Pauling, Oregon State’s most prominent alum.

The immediate cause of the interruption and subsequent protest was a demand issued by OSU’s football coach, Dee Andros, that one of his players, and African American student athlete named Fred Milton, shave his facial hair. This conflict arose in the context of a longer history of racial tensions on campus, as well as concurrent protests related to tuition hikes and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

There was also an uneasiness associated with the talk itself, both with respect to Pauling’s presence on campus as well as the way in which he was introduced to the large crowd that assembled for his lecture.  These issues dated back many years, stemming from a schism that had developed between Pauling and Oregon State in 1949, due to Pauling’s belief that Ralph Spitzer – a former graduate student of Pauling’s who was fired from his faculty position at Oregon State College – was let go due to his political beliefs.

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Ralph Spitzer.

Pauling had known Spitzer since serving as a Visiting Lecturer at Spitzer’s undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University, in 1937.  Spitzer then went on to complete his Ph.D at Caltech in 1941 under the general supervision of Pauling, and sometimes working directly for Pauling.  The two shared a strong mutual respect and often closed their letters with questions asking after wives, children, and general well-being.  Pauling ultimately helped Spitzer to secure research funding and a teaching position at Oregon State College by providing his pupil with a series of consistently glowing recommendations.

Once they had arrived in Corvallis, Spitzer and his wife Terry became increasingly interested in American social problems as well as a multitude of issues related to the atomic bomb.  This concern in matters well beyond the teaching of chemistry, coupled with Ralph and Terry’s lack of hesitation in voicing their opinions, ultimately resulted in Spitzer’s firing by OSU President August Strand in February 1949.

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Ralph and Terry Spitzer, April 1949.

A letter that Spitzer had published in Chemical and Engineering News supporting Trofim Lysenko’s evolutionary theory of vernalization and, more broadly, Soviet science, provided a useful excuse for the OSC administration to deny renewal of his contract.  Although this was, on a technical level, an acceptable action for the president to take, since Spitzer was not tenured and he was not fired for explicitly political reasons, word of the incident quickly spread across campus and the region.

One of Spitzer’s immediate responses upon being informed of his impending dismissal was to write to Pauling seeking his help.  He also asked for a trial before the American Chemical Society (ACS), which refused to become involved in the incident despite the fact that Pauling himself was president at the time.

Nonetheless, after studying the details of the situation, Pauling wrote to President Strand and informed him that, although he did not hold the same beliefs as Spitzer, he believed his former student was certainly entitled to harbor opinions of this sort, and that OSC needed to honor them as a matter of academic freedom and respect for the principles of democracy.  Speaking as an OSC alumnus, fellow chemist, educator, American, and president of the ACS, Pauling urged Strand to reconsider his decision to fire Spitzer.

Strand responded to Pauling forcefully, writing that

if by this action, Oregon State College has lost your respect and support, all I can say is that your price is too high.  We’ll have to get along without your aid.

And so it was that Pauling did not engage with his alma mater until December 1966, five years after Strand had retired from his post

Though the ice between Pauling and OSU had been broken a couple years prior, the situation remained awkward as he arrived on campus for the centenary lecture series. Of particular note, Strand’s successor as OSU President, James Jensen, elected not to introduce Pauling. Instead, Bert Christensen, who was chair of the OSU Chemistry department, was asked to fill this role. This decision was far from customary for a visitor of Pauling’s magnitude and was viewed by many as an affront.

Pauling himself made note of being surprised upon learning of this breach in normal protocol.  He was far more surprised when Christiansen’s introduction was abruptly interrupted by the president of the Black Student Union, the details of which we’ll explore next week.

Justin McBrien, Resident Scholar

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Justin McBrien

Justin McBrien, a Ph.D. candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, is the most recent individual to complete a term as Resident Scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC). The Resident Scholar Program, which is currently accepting applications for the 2016-17 academic year, awards stipends of up to $2,500 for a month’s study in the OSU Libraries. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students as well as independent scholars are all welcome to apply.

McBrien’s visit made use of SCARC’s collecting strength in the history of atomic energy, and he studied multiple collections including the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, as well as several of our agriculture-focused collections.  Working in support of his dissertation, McBrien was specifically interested in exploring ideas on human-altered weather and the risks that have arisen in kind.

In his Resident Scholar lecture, titled “Making Climate Change: The Atom Weather Controversy and the Question of Human Planetary Agency, 1945-1970,” McBrien delved into the question and chronology of atom weather as it has played out in the United States. His talk delineated a theme of his dissertation, which focuses in part on the problems posed by nuclear weapons when used in deliberate ways to affect the Earth.

In his presentation, McBrien’s chronology began in the wake of the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and ran through the 1970s, when ideas about atom weather began to fall out of favor with scientists and the general public.  As has been well established, the military use of atomic bombs in 1945, and the subsequent desire by the United States government to test more and new weapons as the Cold War escalated, posed both new questions and new fears for scientists and the public alike. As part of this rapid shift in the culture, appeals were also made to President Truman to explore other uses for the bombs – peaceful uses that would ostensibly deploy the technology through means that could potentially benefit humanity.  One such branch of inquiry was atom weather.

But what is atom weather?  Simply stated, the concept of atom weather centers around the degree to which nuclear explosions might be used to alter the planet’s weather in varying ways. Many ideas related to atom weather were worrying. Some held that atomic debris could act as a nucleating agent and could alter the albedo of the Earth, perhaps triggering a new ice age. Others feared that nuclear explosions could change the electrical conductivity of the atmosphere due to ionization effects resulting from the blasts.  All of these ideas eventually would be connected to the debate over fallout from nuclear weapons; a debate that, of course, involved Linus Pauling as a central character.

A more optimistic take on atom weather posited that, while the bomb could certainly serve as a trigger for natural disaster, it might also protect humans from nature by changing unfavorable climates for the better.  Equipped with the power of the bomb, humans could take control of the weather and climate, and thus, for the first time, insure a viable future for the planet.

As public discourse on nuclear disaster management became a matter of routine, and as the rebound from a nuclear conflagration came to be discussed as if society were recovering from a tornado or a hurricane, nuclear bombs increasingly became linked to broader environmental concerns. These environmental concerns and subsequent debates over human planetary agency came to inform discussions of environmental contaminants like Agent Orange, and remain central to current conversations on global climate change.

Though nuclear weapons testing has now largely ceased, the question of atom weather stands as an early marker of the public’s understanding of the fact that humans are capable of influencing the Earth in ways that are unintended and often negative. Indeed, although interest in actively exploring atom weather had basically died off by the 1970s, early ideas concerning human altered weather patterns remain and have informed the growing interdisciplinary study – within the earth, social and ecological sciences – of environmental change.

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During his time exploring nuclear topics in SCARC, McBrien made use of the Pauling Papers, as well as those of Theodore Rockwell, among others.  The Pauling materials provided many jumping off points for new avenues of research to explore, while at the same time encompassing a multitude of topics of interest, including nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and disarmament.

In particular, McBrien made heavy use of a series of letters that Pauling received from the public asking him for advice and clarification on the feasibility of human-controlled weather.  Although he believed himself to be no expert in the field and was unable to weigh in authoritatively on the debate, Pauling believed the idea of atom weather to be entirely possible.

McBrien also capitalized on SCARC’s agricultural collections to explore research done on Oregon farms in the 1950s, work carried out as part of a larger federal study on weather control and cloud seeding.

The Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries is now in its ninth year of operation. For more about past Resident Scholars, please see the program’s homepage.

 

Jane Lubchenco is the 2016 Linus Pauling Legacy Award Recipient

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Dr. Jane Lubchenco

We are very pleased to announce that Dr. Jane Lubchenco will receive the 2016 Linus Pauling Legacy Award in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, April 26th.

Lubchenco will receive the Legacy Award and deliver a lecture at an event that is free and open to the public.  Details are as follows.

Scientists Making Waves and Bringing Hope

2016 Linus Pauling Legacy Award Lecture, to be delivered by Dr. Jane Lubchenco.

Tuesday, April 26th, 7:30 PM.

Oregon Historical Society Museum, 1200 SW Park Ave., Portland, Oregon.


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President Obama receives a briefing in the Situation Room of the White House on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, July 21, 2010. Lubcheno is seated at right.

Dr. Lubchenco holds the title of university distinguished professor and advisor in Marine Studies at Oregon State University and was formerly the administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and under secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. She is the ninth recipient of the Legacy Award, which was first given in 2001 to recognize achievement in an area once of interest to Linus Pauling.

In addition to her work at Oregon State University, Lubchenco is currently serving as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean and is an international expert on marine ecology, environmental science and climate change. She is a pioneer in the development of marine protected areas and reserves and in fisheries reform, which are complementary efforts to return fisheries to sustainability and profitability while also protecting habitats and biodiversity.

With a Ph.D. in ecology from Harvard University, Lubchenco is one of the most highly cited ecologists in the world, and she has received numerous awards including a MacArthur “genius” award and 20 honorary doctorates. Her academic career as a professor began at Harvard University and continued at Oregon State University (1977-2009) until her appointment as Administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Following her work at NOAA, Lubchenco was Distinguished Visitor in Public Service at Stanford University and then she returned to Oregon State.

The OSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center has conducted two oral history interviews with Lubchenco, which are available online. Lubchenco also participated in a conference that was organized by the OSU Libraries in 2007 and titled “The Scientist as Educator and Public Citizen.” Her lecture from that event, “Advocates for Science: The Role of Academic Environmental Scientists,” may be viewed here.

Lubchenco’s lecture in Portland is wheelchair accessible. Individuals requiring other accommodations should contact Don Frier at 541-737-4633 or don.frier@oregonstate.edu by April 20 so that appropriate arrangements can be made.


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The Pauling Legacy Award Medal

The Linus Pauling Legacy Award was founded in 2001 by Pauling’s eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr., and was originally named the Linus Pauling Centennial Award.  The Oregon State University Libraries assumed administrative responsibilities for the award in 2004 and have granted it biennially ever since.

Past recipients have included four Nobel Prize winners – Joseph Rotblat (2001), Roderick MacKinnon (2008), Roger Kornberg (2010), and Roald Hoffmann (2012). Honorees receive a framed certificate, an engraved medallion, and an honorarium of $2,000.

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