Barclay Kamb, 1931-2011

Barclay Kamb, 1994.

“I have just read an article about time by Hsü in PNAS.  I have not been able to understand it all.  However, he thanks you, so perhaps sometime when you come to the ranch you can explain his ideas to me.”

-Linus Pauling, letter to Barclay Kamb, December 3, 1992.

Geologist and former Caltech Vice President and Provost W. Barclay Kamb died on April 21 at the age of 79.  Caltech has published a nice remembrance of Kamb, which is available here.

Kamb, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, was a particularly distinguished scholar of the Antarctic who made many significant breakthroughs in his studies of the structure of ice and the nature of glaciers.  His influence on polar studies is evident in many ways; glacial researchers today make use of the Kamb-Engelhardt Hot Water Drill, to list one example, and an Antarctic ice stream was, in 2003, named the Kamb Ice Stream in his honor.

Barclay Kamb was also Linus Pauling’s son-in-law, and it is through this prism that we share a bit more about his life.


Kamb, a San Jose native who then went by the surname of Ray, entered Caltech at the age of 16 in 1948.  He completed his physics degree in 1952 and went on to obtain a Ph. D. in geology in 1956.  It was during his graduate years that Kamb caught the eye of Linus Pauling – Kamb’s doctoral adviser, under whom he was investigating the structure of zunyite – who thought very highly of the young scholar.  So highly, in fact, that he and Ava Helen began hatching a plan.  Biographer Tom Hager writes

From the moment [Linda Pauling] arrived [home from a trip to Europe], they threw her together as often as as long as possible with a favorite graduate student of Pauling’s, a handsome and brilliant young geologist named Barclay Kamb.  By the summer of 1957, Linda had settled down:  She was living at home, making money by assisting [Robert] Corey at Caltech, and occasionally cooking dinner for Kamb, who was, Pauling was happy to note, ‘hanging around our house quite a bit.’  The matchmaking worked.  On a beautiful day in September 1957, Pauling walked across the front lawn of his Sierra Madre home with Linda on his arm, in front of two hundred guests, and delivered her to Barclay Kamb – now a Caltech assistant professor of geology – for the purpose of marriage.

Linda and Barclay Kamb, 1957.

Pauling and Kamb quickly developed a very close relationship that was further cemented by their shared passion for scientific inquiry.  In 1990 Pauling nominated Kamb for the M. J. Buerger Award in crystallography, and in his nomination letter he quipped

He is recognized as having extraordinary ability.  When I get stuck on a problem, I go to him for help.  He is my son-in-law, so he finds it difficult to turn down my appeal.

Indeed, in reviewing their lengthy correspondence, it is overwhelmingly evident that science was a frequent topic of conversation between Pauling and his son-in-law.  The duo published seven papers together, on topics ranging from the effects of strontium-90 on mice, to the structure of lithiophorite to resonating valence bonds in hyperelectronic metals.  And in their letters, countless additional topics are explored from melting points in metals to an investigation of pseudobrookite.

Linda and Barclay Kamb, 1963.

In addition to his scientific acumen, Pauling admired Kamb’s writing skills – “Your ability at writing in a clear manner is so unusual that it would be a terrible waste if you did not write some good books,” Pauling opined in 1961 – and on multiple occasions enlisted his aid in the revision of both of his legendary texts General Chemistry and College Chemistry.  Many years later, in 2001, Kamb would serve as lead editor for the two volume set, Linus Pauling: Selected Scientific Papers.

Amusingly to the contemporary reader, Pauling also commandeered his son-in-law’s services – and title – for the more pedestrian task of fighting the construction of a trail that the Forest Service planned to build near his property.  “Perhaps you could write to him,” Pauling requested, “signing your letter as Professor of Geology and Geophysics, and saying that you have observed this trail in its relation to the beach 300-foot stretch along the cliff…where there is an absence of shrubbery that would prevent rocks from falling onto the trail.”

We leave it to Tom Hager to describe the fallout from a different and much more important cliff-related incident – during which Linus, at age 59, famously spent the night trapped on a ledge overlooking the Pacific Ocean – that once again served as evidence of the close relationship between Pauling and Kamb.

When they found him at noon the next day, Pauling was emotionally shaken and physically exhausted.  But he swallowed all that – almost as a matter of habit…

On Monday morning, less than twenty-four hours after his rescue, Pauling walked into his office at Caltech.  The news of his disappearance had been carried nationwide on the news wires, and everyone in his research group had been worried.  Now they festooned his office door with a large ‘Welcome Back, Dr. Pauling’ banner, and one of the secretaries baked a cake decorated with a little toy man on a cliff and a mermaid in the water below.  There was a small cheer when he arrived.  Pauling looked at the cake, then, without a word to anyone, walked into his private office and shut the door.  The little crowd that had gathered to greet him was stunned.  A moment later, a sheet of notepaper was pushed under the door; it was a request from Pauling to cancel his class and all other appointments.

No one knew quite what to do.  Pauling’s son-in-law, Barclay Kamb, was as close to him as anyone; he was called in, and the situation was explained to him.  Kamb knocked softly on Pauling’s door, then went inside to talk to him.  Something was seriously wrong.  Pauling seemed aware of his surroundings but unable to say a word.  Kamb decided to take him home.

Pauling did not say a word all the way back to his house and remained mute as Ava Helen put him to bed.  The trauma of the cliff episode had put him in a state of shock… When Linda visited with his new grandchildren, he began to cry.  It was the first time anyone had seen him emotionally vulnerable, in anything less than full control.

While Barclay was a great asset to Linus in many respects, it is clear that the father-in-law often served a similar role.  For one, it is worth noting that the Kamb family accepted Linus and Ava Helen’s invitation to move into the original Pauling family home in Pasadena once Linus left Caltech in favor of a position in Santa Barbara. The correspondence also indicates that Pauling acted as watch dog for Kamb in at least one instance, writing to express his indignation to an author of a paper on high-pressure ice forms who had neglected to adequately cite Kamb’s original research in the field. (The offender responded apologetically and issued a correction.)

In the main, it is clear that Linus Pauling’s overriding feeling toward Barclay Kamb was one of pride.  He was fond, for instance, of recounting a New Yorker article on flooding in southern California that referred to Kamb as “the smartest man in the world.”

Pauling family photograph, 1976.

And the fondness was clearly mutual, as perhaps best summarized by a handwritten letter penned by Kamb from his station at “Outstream Bravo” camp in Antarctica.  The letter is dated December 22, 1993, a point in time when Pauling was quite ill with the cancer that would claim his life eight months later.  In what Kamb conceivably could have regarded as a final communication with his father-in-law, he wrote with affection.

Here I am in the far south (latitude 83.5° S) doing my field work on the Antarctic Ice Sheet, but wishing I could be at home with Linda and able to come to visit you.  At times there is excitement and exhilaration here, and it is rewarding to me scientifically, but there is also a lot of plain hard work and a somewhat dreary existence.

One thing that I greatly miss during these long trips to Antarctica is the chance to discuss scientific subjects with you, which I so much enjoy when Linda and I come to visit.  This goes back many, many years, of course, and has been a great inspiration for me, and especially rewarding when we were able to produce joint papers as a result.  You have given me much good scientific (and other!) advice over the years, and I greatly appreciate it.  Particularly valuable to me was your suggestion that I work on the structure of the ice phases, which was a gold mine of interesting science.

…I am counting the days until I can get this job here done and come home to Linda, and I hope very soon after that we can come up to visit you.  I look forward to it very much…

Linda and Barclay Kamb with Lucile, Linus and Pauline Pauling, 1986.


For more insight into Barclay Kamb’s life and character, see this biographical text from “Welcome Barclay…Thank You Gene,” a Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences event marking Kamb’s assumption of the Division Chairmanship in October 1972.

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The Oppenheimer Minerals

For a short period of time in the late 1920s, Linus Pauling and J. Robert Oppenheimer were colleagues at the California Institute of Technology.  While the tenor of their relationship was, in the end, rather tumultuous, the two did share many common interests.

One such interest was a passion for minerals.  Both Pauling and Oppenheimer developed a fondness for collecting and classifying rocks at an early age, and as a token of his esteem during their time together at Caltech, Oppenheimer gave to Pauling a large portion of his own collection.  The gift comprised several hundred specimens, once occupying twenty cabinet drawers in Pauling’s office. (For more on Oppenheimer’s fascination with minerals, see page six of this piece by Dr. Andrew A. Sicree – PDF link)

Over the years Pauling gave away a large portion of Oppenheimer’s gift – several items went to Pauling’s son-in-law Barclay Kamb, a renowned geologist, while others were given to Linus Pauling, Jr.  Oppenheimer’s original identifications for many of the specimens were likewise lost over the course of time.

A few of the minerals made their way to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, images of which are presented in the gallery below.  We have done our best to classify each item, though our departmental background in mineralogy is admittedly thin.  That noted,  if any of our readers should have an idea as to the proper or more precise identity of any of the stones, please drop us a note in the Comments section and we’ll update our records, and this post.

[All images by Anna Wilsey]

Stuck on a Cliff

New York Herald Tribune, February 1, 1960

New York Herald Tribune, February 1, 1960

On the morning of January 30, 1960, Linus Pauling told his wife Ava Helen that he would be out checking the fence lines along the boundaries of their ranch near Big Sur, California. A little before 10:00AM, Ava Helen watched as Linus walked towards the coast south of their cabin but did not notice – as Pauling mistakenly believed she had – as he veered away from the fence line and toward Salmon Cone, a small mountain in the Santa Lucia chain near the Pauling home. Linus was dressed comfortably, wearing slacks, a light jacket, and his characteristic beret. He and Ava Helen had planned to meet for lunch and thought that a friend would perhaps stop by around noon, both expecting Pauling to be back by that time.

For several years Pauling had been interested in finding the mouth of nearby Salmon Creek. He got the idea that the mouth was around China Camp area instead of Salmon Cone, and climbed several ledges that allowed him to walk east to investigate his theory. After a time he found and followed a deer path up several hundred more feet. The deer trail came to an end, but Pauling thought that he saw a spot twenty or thirty feet above him where the path picked up again and began trying to make his way to it over loose rocks. Unable to move east as he had hoped, Pauling was unable to retrace his steps back down or go further up the slope safely. A sickening realization washed over him – he was stuck.

A map included with the Herald Tribune article.

A map included with the Herald Tribune article.

The ledge on which he was perched was about three feet by six feet. Loose rocks, leaves, and sticks covered the ledge; behind him was a sheer rock face. Pauling sat on the ledge for several hours thinking that Ava Helen would walk along the beach and see him stranded on the ledge but, as afternoon moved into evening, came to realize that he might have to stay the entire night perched on the little cliff. Having reached this conclusion, he began to dig a little hole with his walking stick in which he could sit. He dug until he had made the hole two feet by three feet and about a foot deep. He then used the extra dirt to create an eighteen-inch mound around the hole. His resting area completed, Pauling intently pondered a route off the ledge, only to become too frightened to continue on his own. Soon it was dark.

Pauling did not want to fall asleep during his long night on the cliff because, for one, he was afraid he would not hear the calls of searchers. More importantly, Pauling was very concerned that, in the midst of sleep, he might roll off of the precipice and into the crashing ocean below. In order to remain awake, Pauling engaged in a variety of mental tasks. For a while he lectured to the waves about the nature of the chemical bond. He also listed the various properties of the elements of the periodic table. As the night dragged on, Pauling counted as high as he was able in as many languages as he could – German, Italian, French and eventually English. He even used his walking stick to try to tell time based on the positions of the constellations. In an effort to stay warm as well as awake, Pauling tried to move one limb or another at all times.

Moving his arms and legs was only part of Pauling’s process of keeping warm on this January night. Earlier in the evening, having decided that it would be necessary and prudent to remain on the cliff in the small hole that he had dug, Pauling began pulling up some of the bushes that were located near his little ledge. He broke them up into smaller pieces and placed them on the damp bottom of the hole. He then laid some of the intact branches over himself. He was not happy with the results, however, as he had to constantly pull out small leaves and twigs from inside his clothes – eventually he just broke the bushes into twigs, which he used as both mattress and blanket. Still wishing to be a bit warmer, Pauling unfolded the map that he had brought with him and laid it over himself. He later told his family that the map helped immensely although, luckily, it was not as cold a night as could have been the case.

Notes by Ava Helen Pauling. January 30, 1960.

Notes by Ava Helen Pauling. January 30, 1960.

As Linus was settling in for the night, Ava Helen had sprung into action to find him. When he missed their lunch date, Ava Helen had assumed that he had simply lost track of time and did not worry too much. But when 4:15 PM rolled around and there was still no sign of her husband, she went to the nearby ranger station for help and to call her son-in-law Barclay Kamb. As it turned out, a ranger came close to Pauling’s ledge near Salmon Cone but Pauling was unable to attract his attention and the ranger moved on to search other areas. At 11:30PM, a deputy sheriff from Monterrey called off the search for the night. The weather conditions were not conducive to a search – intermittent clouds and fog enshrouded the area from early evening until well-after Pauling had been rescued.

Undeterred, Barclay Kamb reached the ranch around 2:30AM and began searching for an hour and a half in the direction that Ava Helen had last seen Pauling…the wrong direction. At 6:00AM, he began searching in the same area again. Just before 10:00AM, Pauling finally heard another one of the searchers – a man named Terry Currence who was walking along the beach below the ledge. Pauling called to him and Currence scrambled in Pauling’s direction. Terry then called to the deputy sheriff, who maneuvered to a spot a little ways above Pauling. Currence was sent by the deputy sheriff to tell Ava Helen that Pauling had been found alive and well, and to send some rope back. While waiting for the rope, Pauling and the sheriff made their way off of the cliff using one of the paths that Pauling had been afraid to follow unassisted.

New York Times, February 1, 1960.

New York Times, February 1, 1960.

Pauling was in good spirits as he was led back to his cabin, even joking with the rescue team. Upon returning home, Pauling had lunch and some coffee. Ava Helen shooed-away the reporters who had assembled and thanked everyone who had helped to find her husband. The two packed up their car and the following day drove back to Pasadena. On Tuesday, Pauling went to his Caltech laboratory to give a lecture. When he reached his office, he walked past the small party that his office had put together to welcome his return and went into his office without saying a word. He locked his office and shoved a note under the door requesting that his day be cleared. His staff was unsure of what to do so they called in Barclay Kamb. Barclay came to Pauling’s office and drove him home.

Once home, Ava Helen put him to bed and called the doctor. Pauling had gone into mild shock and was told to rest in bed for several days. He was likewise afflicted with a severe case of poison oak, an unfortunate side effect of his bedding on the ledge. Pauling remained in bed and barely spoke; he cried at the sight of his grandchildren when Linda brought them over for a visit. The emotional and physical exhaustion that he suffered from his night on the cliff forced Pauling to take a much-needed rest and to finally let out some of the emotions that he had been bottling up for so many years of relentless work as a scientist and activist. The trauma was relatively short-lived though, and two weeks later he was not only talking and responding to letters but also honoring speaking engagements again.

The media response to Pauling’s plight on the cliff was swift and rampant. By 9:30AM on Sunday, news of Pauling’s disappearance had spread across the radio, and a half hour later, at 10:00AM, an overzealous reporter told San Francisco Bay area residents that Linus Pauling was dead. Two of Linus’s children, Linda and Crellin, were informed of the radio broadcast and for an hour were unable to discern otherwise – they thought their father was dead. After Pauling was found, news reports of the past weekend’s events were spread around the world, from Oregon to Massachusetts, India to Australia. Over the coming month Pauling received well wishes from colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers who had heard of his ordeal. One such telegram read as follows:

Dear Dr. Pauling, Will you be so kind as to stay off precipitous cliffs until the question of disarmament and atomic testing is finished? A needy citizen. [Signed] Marlon Brando.

For more on the life and times of Dr. Pauling, see the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Creating The Pauling Catalogue: Special Features

An image of young Pauling, used as an illustration in Biographical subseries 1.

An image of young Pauling, used as an illustration in Biographical subseries 1.

[Part 8 of 9]

Thanks in part to a number of special features that have been incorporated into the published Pauling Catalogue, the finished product is far from a simple listing of archival holdings.

For starters, each volume contains an introduction by either a major historian of science, a member of the Pauling family or a staffmember of the OSU Libraries Special Collections. Authors include two of Pauling’s biographers, Robert Paradowski and Tom Hager, as well as Robert Olby, the pre-eminent historian of DNA and the author of a forthcoming biography of Francis CrickMary Jo Nye, OSU history professor emeritus and a recent recipient of the Sarton Medal, also contributed a text, as did Linus Pauling, Jr., Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb.

Volume One contains a forty-five page Timeline, enhanced with dozens of full-color illustrations, that chronicles the remarkable lives of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. The Timeline was written by Robert Paradowski and, previous to its appearance in The Pauling Catalogue, had only been available in a very rare Japanese publication titled Linus Pauling: A Man of Intellect and Action. (so rare, in fact, that the only copy listed in WorldCat is the copy residing in the OSU Libraries Special Collections)  Short of the various Pauling biographies that have been written over the years, the Paradowski Timeline is, perhaps, the authoritative encapsulation of the Paulings’ life and work —  It’s inclusion is a terrific boon to The Pauling Catalogue.

An excerpt from the Paradowski Timeline, which appears in Volume 1 of The Pauling Catalogue.

An excerpt from the Paradowski Timeline, which appears in Volume 1 of The Pauling Catalogue.

Volume Two includes sixteen illustrated pages of extracts from Linus Pauling’s Oregon Agricultural College diary, written by the young freshman during the first months of his undergraduate pursuits in 1917 and 1918.  As noted in the introduction to this appendix:

Perhaps the most interesting of all the personal narratives in the Pauling collection is the sixty-three page “Diary (So-Called)” that a young Linus kept from August 1917 through the first several months of his freshman year at Oregon Agricultural College. The OAC diary provides an unusually candid glimpse into the life and personality of a typically uncertain teenager as he leaves the familiarity of home in pursuit of an advanced education. Along the way the reader learns of a photography-processing business that Linus and two friends attempt to establish, and likewise of a minor burn “caus[ing] the formation of blisters fully 1/3 cm. diameter on each of the four fingers of my dextrum.”

Indeed, the OAC diary contains a wide array of the young Pauling’s thoughts and adventures: the happy accident of quite randomly finding a slide rule while walking through a field; the palpable fear summoned in anticipation of impending undergraduate studies; the first pangs of a developing crush on an OAC co-ed named Irene Sparks, whom Linus quickly annoints as “the girl for me.”

A sample of Pauling's OAC diary.  Though his track and field pursuits did not yield much fruit, Pauling would indeed make the acquaintance of Troy Bogart -- a fellow member of Delta Upsilon fraternity.

A sample of Pauling's OAC diary. Though his track and field pursuits did not yield much fruit, Pauling would indeed make the acquaintance of Troy Bogart -- a fellow member of the Gamma Tau Beta fraternity. (later to become Delta Upsilon)

Each of the six volumes contains at least eight pages of color illustrations, as well as a full index listing of all illustrations that appear in a given volume. Volume Six concludes with a Technical Note and a Colophon, which explain the processes used in creating the The Pauling Catalogue and which have served as the foundation for many of the technical blog posts developed in this series.

The Pauling Catalogue

The Pauling Catalogue

Ultimately, it is our hope that the inclusion of these special features combine to add value to the finished project; to form a reference work that is as complete as it is authoritative.

The Pauling Catalogue is available for purchase at http://paulingcatalogue.org