Pauling and Perutz: The Later Years

[Concluding our series on Max Perutz, in commemoration of the Perutz centenary.]

In 1957, Max Perutz and Linus Pauling wrote to each other again on a topic that was new to their correspondence. This time Pauling asked Perutz to sign his petition to stop nuclear weapons tests, a request to which Perutz agreed.

Signature of Max Perutz added to the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, 1957.

Signature of Max Perutz added to the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, 1957.

As the decade moved forward, the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA attracted ever more attention to the work of James Watson and Francis Crick. In May 1958, Perutz asked Pauling to sign a certificate nominating his colleagues Crick and John Kendrew to the Royal Society. Pauling agreed, though stipulated that Kendrew’s name be placed first on the nomination, as he expected that Crick would get more support. As with Pauling’s bomb test petition a year earlier, Perutz agreed.

At the beginning of 1960, William Lawrence Bragg wrote to Pauling about nominating Perutz, along with Kendrew, for the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics. Pauling was hesitant about the nomination, thinking it was still early, as their work on hemoglobin structure had only recently been published. Pauling also felt that Dorothy Hodgkin should be included for her work in protein crystallography. Bragg thought this a good idea and included Hodgkin in his nomination.

By March, Bragg’s nominations had gone through and Pauling was asked to supply his opinion. After spending some time thinking about the matter, Pauling wrote to the Nobel Committee that he thought that Robert B. Corey, who worked in Pauling’s lab, should be nominated along with Perutz and Kendrew for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry instead. Pauling felt that if Perutz and Kendrew were included in the award, Corey should be awarded half, with the other half being split between Perutz and Kendrew. Pauling also sent a letter to the Nobel Committee for Physics, indicating that he thought that Hodgkin, Perutz, and Kendrew should be nominated for the chemistry prize. Pauling sent a copy of this letter to Bragg as well.

Pauling’s letter to the Nobel Committee, March 15, 1960. pg. 1.

Pg. 2

In July, Bragg replied to Pauling that he was in a “quandary” about Corey, as he was “convinced that” Corey’s work “does not rank in the same category with that which Mrs. Hodgkin or Perutz and Kendrew have done.” Perutz and Kendrew’s efforts, he explained, had theoretical implications directly supporting Pauling’s own work, whereas Corey’s research was not that “different from other careful analyses of organic compounds.” Once everything was sorted out, Perutz and Kendrew were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1962 (the same year that Watson and Crick, along with Maurice Wilkins, won in Physiology/Medicine, and Pauling, though belated for a year, won the Nobel Peace Prize) and Hodgkin received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964. Robert Corey never was awarded a Nobel Prize.

Linus Pauling, Max Delbrück and Max Perutz at the American Chemical Society centennial meeting, New York. April 6, 1976.

Perutz and Pauling corresponded very little during the 1960s, with Perutz writing only to ask for Pauling’s signature, once for a photograph that would be displayed in his lab and a second time for a letter to Italian President Antonio Segri in support of scientists Domenico Marotta and Giordano Giacomello, who were under fire for suspected misuse of funds.

In 1971 Perutz read an interview with Pauling in the New Scientist which compelled him to engage Pauling on scientific questions once again. Perutz was surprised to have read that Pauling had tried to solve the structure of alpha keratin as early as 1937 and that his failure to do so led him to study amino acids. Perutz wrote that had he known this in 1950, he, Bragg and Kendrew might not have pursued their own inquiry into alpha keratin. Pauling responded that he thought his efforts had been well-known as he and Corey had made mention of them in several papers at the time. Pauling explained that he had difficulties with alpha keratin up until 1950, when he finally was able to show that the alpha helix best described its structure. Perutz replied that he was aware of Pauling and Corey’s work and the alpha helix, but was surprised that Pauling’s early failure to construct a model led him to a more systematic and fruitful line of research.

Perutz also wondered whether Pauling had seen his article in the previous New Scientist, which reflected on Pauling and Charles Coryell’s discovery of the effect of oxygenation on the magnetic qualities of hemoglobin. Perutz saw this as providing “the key to the understanding of the mechanism of haem-haem [heme-heme] interactions in haemoglobin.” Pauling responded that he had not seen Perutz’s article but would look for it, and also sent Perutz a 1951 paper on the topic. Perutz took it upon himself to send Pauling his own article from the New Scientist.

A few years later, in 1976, Perutz again headed to southern California to attend a celebration for Pauling’s 75th birthday, at which he nervously gave the after dinner speech to a gathering of 250 guests. Before going to the event in Santa Barbara, Perutz stopped in Riverside and visited the young university there, which impressed him. Perutz wrote to his family back in Cambridge that he wished that “Oxbridge college architects would come here to learn – but probably they wouldn’t notice the difference between their clumsy buildings and these graceful constructions.”

Perutz also visited the Paulings’ home outside Pasadena, which elicited more architectural comments. Perutz described to his family how the Pauling house was shaped like an amide group, “the wings being set at the exact angles of the chemical bonds that allowed him to predict the structure of the α-helix.” Perutz asked Pauling, perhaps tongue in cheek as he thought the design somewhat conceited, “why he missed the accompanying change in radius of the iron atom.” Pauling replied that he had not thought of it.

Bertrand Russell and Linus Pauling, London England. 1953.

In preparation for his speech, Perutz also took some time to read No More War! which he concluded was as relevant in 1976 as when it was first published in 1958. Perutz saw Pauling’s faith in human reason as reminiscent of Bertrand Russell’s. Indeed, the many similarities between the two were striking to Perutz, and he included many of them in his talk, “except for their common vanity which I discreetly omitted.” In a personal conversation, Perutz asked Pauling about his relationship with Russell which, as it turned out, was mostly concerned with their mutual actions against nuclear weapons. Perutz was somewhat disappointed that “they hardly touched upon the fundamental outlook which I believe they shared.”

Perutz and Pauling were again out of touch for several years until April 1987, when Pauling traveled to London to give a lecture at Imperial College as part of a centenary conference in honor of Erwin Schrödinger. Pauling’s contribution discussed his own work on antigen-antibody complexes during the 1930s and 1940s, during which he shared a drawing that he had made at the time. Perutz was in attendance and noticed how similar Pauling’s drawing was to then-recent models of the structure that had been borne out of contemporary x-ray crystallography. Perutz sent Pauling some slides so that he could judge the similarities for himself.

Flyer for Pauling's 90th birthday tribute, California Institute of Technology, February 28, 1991.

Flyer for Pauling’s 90th birthday tribute, California Institute of Technology, February 28, 1991.

The final time that Pauling and Perutz met in person was for Pauling’s ninetieth birthday celebration in 1991. Perutz, again, experienced stage fright as he gave his speech. But he was encouraged afterwards, especially after receiving a compliment from Francis Crick who, according to Perutz, was “not in the habit of paying compliments.” Perutz told his family that the nonagenarian Pauling “stole the show” by giving one speech at 9:00 AM on early work in crystallography and then another speech at 10:00 PM on his early years at Caltech. Perutz found it enviable that Pauling stood for both lectures and was still getting around very well, though he held on to the arm of those with whom he walked. Without coordinating, Perutz and Pauling also found a point of agreement in their talks, noting that current crystallographers were “so busy determining structures at the double” that they “have no time to think about them.” This rush often caused them to miss the most important aspects of the newly uncovered structures.

Just as Perutz first encountered Pauling through one of his books, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, so too would Pauling’s last encounter with Perutz be through a book, Perutz’s Is Science Necessary? Pauling received the volume in 1991 as a gift from his friends and colleagues Emile and Jane Zuckerkandl. Pauling’s limited marginalia reveal his interest in the text’s discussions of cancer and aging research. Aged 90 and facing his own cancer diagnosis, Pauling was particularly drawn to Perutz’s review of François Jacob’s The Possible and the Actual which sought, but did not find, a “death mechanism” in spawning salmon. Pauling likewise highlighted the book’s suggestion that “like other scientific fantasies…the Fountain of Youth probably does not belong to the world of the possible.” And Pauling made note of particular individuals that he had known well, like John D. Bernal and David Harker. Pauling deciphered the latter’s identity from Perutz’s less-than-favorable anonymous portrayal.

Pauling also noted spots where Perutz wrote about him. While most of these references were positive and focused on topics like Pauling’s influence on Watson and Crick and his breakthroughs on protein structure, one in particular was not. Perhaps less cryptic than the reference to Harker, Perutz described how “one great American chemist now believes that massive doses of vitamin C prolong the lives of cancer patients,” following it with “even more dangerous are physicians who believe in cancer cures.”

While critical, Perutz really meant the “great” in his comment and he continued to repeat it elsewhere. After Pauling passed away in August 1994, Perutz told his sister Lotte that “many feel that he [Pauling] was the greatest chemist of this century” while also being “instrumental in the protests that led to Kennedy and Macmillan’s conclusion of Atmospheric Test ban.”  He reiterated this idea in the paragraph that concluded his obituary of Pauling, published in the October 1994 issue of Structural Biology.

Pauling’s fundamental contributions to chemistry cover a tremendous range, and their influence on generations of young chemists was enormous.  In the years between 1930 and 1940 he helped to transform chemistry from a largely phenomenological subject to one based firmly on structure and quantum mechanical principles.  In later years the valence bond and resonance theories which formed the theoretical backbone of Paulings work were supplemented by R. S. Mullikens’ molecular orbital theory, which provided a deeper understanding of chemical bonding….Nevertheless resonance and hybridization have remained part of the everyday vocabulary of chemists and are still used, for example, to explain the planarity of the peptide bond.  Many of us regard Pauling as the greatest chemist of the century.


Dorothy Wrinch: The Early Years

Dorothy Wrinch, 1940. (Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory Archives photo)

Dorothy Wrinch, 1940. (Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory Archives photo)

[Part 1 of 4]

Dorothy Maud Wrinch was a mathematician and biochemical theorist who, like many famous scientists, was an extremely complex individual. She became most well-known for her incorrect hypothesis on the structure of proteins and the vicious battle over that hypothesis that ensued between her and Linus Pauling. To a degree, Wrinch’s fame faded along with her incorrect theory, but her story is highly intriguing and we aim to explore it in detail over the next four posts.

(For much more on the life of Wrinch see the biography I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science, by Marjorie Senechal, Oxford University Press: 2012.)

Dorothy Wrinch was born in Argentina on September 12, 1894, the daughter of Hugh Edward Hart Wrinch and Ada Minnie Souter. Her parents were English citizens, at the time living in Rosario, Argentina, where Hugh was working for a British firm that employed him as a mechanical engineer. Once the project in Rosario was completed, the Wrinch family returned to London and Hugh found a job at a waterworks in the London suburbs, at which point Dorothy began attending the nearby Surbiton High School.

Hugh loved mathematics and succeeded in fostering a similar sensibility in Dorothy. In 1913 she received an internship to Girton College, a women’s college at Cambridge University. While there, she began to study math and philosophy, and in her first year was introduced to the famous and controversial philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian and social critic, Bertrand Russell (who would later become a close friend of Pauling’s). In her sophomore year, she began to study mathematical logic under the direction of Russell and quickly became enamored with him. She excelled in her studies, earning numerous awards and honors as the highest ranked woman in her class, and ultimately graduated with extremely high marks.

In 1918 Wrinch began teaching algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and solid geometry to honors students at University College, London. By then she had become deeply infatuated with Russell. She spent huge amounts of free time with him and his social circle, and absorbed many feminist and socialist beliefs from the group. Russell was arrested in 1918 for his active opposition to World War I; specifically, for delivering a speech where he encouraged the United States to ignore Britain and remain neutral. While he was in prison, Wrinch visited him regularly, wrote him numerous letters and often brought him books. In one of her letters to him, she described herself as his disciple, and talked of how proud she was to be an intimate friend of his.

This intimacy abruptly ended in 1919 when Russell began a romantic relationship with Dora Black, a famous feminist, socialist, and proponent of free love. Wrinch felt humiliated, and many of her writings from that time period revolve around issues of trust and betrayal. Wrinch was a self-described manic depressive, and took Russell’s actions very personally and quite badly.

Bertrand Russell and Linus Pauling, 1953.

Nonetheless, Wrinch continued teaching at University College, and while doing so she earned a Master of Science degree in 1920, and returned to Girton College with a research fellowship in 1921. She rounded off her upper education and earned a Doctorate of Science in 1922. She was prolific, writing over a dozen papers about the philosophy of science.

The year 1922 was important for Wrinch in more ways than one: in addition to obtaining a doctorate, she also was married to John William Nicholson, the director of studies in physics and math at Oxford. The documentary record suggests that Wrinch and Nicholson met and became engaged rather quickly.

Wrinch also moved to Oxford in 1922 and became a part-time tutor and lecturer in mathematics at Lady Margaret Hall, a women’s college at Oxford. Once established, she branched out, lecturing at Oxford’s five women’s colleges on a per-term basis. Despite her track record of success, she encountered difficulties at Oxford, as its math and science community was tightly bound and very traditional. In this environment, Wrinch found many factors going against her: she was a married woman who also focused on her career; though married she retained her maiden name; she came from a modest social background; she was a feminist and very progressive socially; and she was new to Oxford.

Wrinch’s situation improved when she received an appointment as full-time mathematics lecturer for three years, making her the first woman to obtain such a position at Oxford. Her position also meant that male students would attend her lectures which was almost unheard of – female lecturers generally lectured to exclusively female audiences.

Her life was changed forever in 1928 with the birth of her daughter Pamela. Pam truly was the single greatest happiness and love of Wrinch’s life, as is instantly apparent by reading letters where Pam is described. Unfailiingly, Wrinch uses nothing but the most glowing of terms of endearment to describe her daughter.

As the 1920s drew to a close, Wrinch found herself a new mother, a scientific pioneer and a social radical. As she looked ahead, she charted a path that would make herself stand out even more: in an age where most British women would focus on career or marriage and motherhood, Wrinch decided that she would do all three.

Toshihiro Higuchi, Resident Scholar

Toshihiro Higuchi

Toshihiro Higuchi

Toshihiro Higuchi is the second individual this year to conduct research in Special Collections under the sponsorship of our Resident Scholar Program.

Originally from Japan, Higuchi first attended the University of Tsukuba on the Japanese island of Honshu. In 2002 he graduated with an M.A. in International Political Economy, after which he again entered the University of Tsukuba, this time in the Ph. D. program. During his second year as a doctoral candidate, Higuchi received a Fulbright award that presented him with the opportunity to study in the United States, something he had always wanted to do. In August of 2005, he enrolled at Georgetown University, where he is now in his fifth year as a Ph. D. candidate in the History department.

The research that Higuchi is conducting here in Special Collections is related to a portion of his dissertation work, a primary focus of which is the evolution of environmental consciousness in the United States and around the world. Higuchi’s thesis is that the fierce debate in the 1950s over the effects of radioactive fallout generated by nuclear weapons tests  (tests which presented the first instance of measurable global contamination and thus the first global environmental crisis) helped to inform later attitudes underlying not only peace activism, but also the environmental movement.

The Fallout Suits

One key aspect of Higuchi’s research in the Pauling Papers has been a study of a lesser-known component of Pauling’s peace work: the Fallout Suits. Filed in 1958, the Fallout Suits sought to utilize the court systems of the three nuclear powers (the U.S., Great Britain and the U.S.S.R.) to compel each nation to cease their nuclear weapons tests programs. The plaintiffs in these cases included well-known figures such as Pauling, Bertrand Russell and Canon L. John Collins, as well as an American housewife and three Japanese fishermen, all of whom were meant to represent differing perspectives on the dangers of radioactive fallout.

Having retained the council of lawyers Francis Heisler and A. L. Wirin, the backers of the Fallout Suits had three goals in mind. First, they sought to obtain court orders that would compel the governments of the nuclear powers to release secret information detailing the hazards of nuclear weapons tests. Using this information, they hoped that the courts would, either directly or indirectly, redefine the risk consensus associated with nuclear testing, which would then lead to new directives meant to address these risks. The ultimate goal was a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons tests.

Philosophically, the plaintiffs argued that weapons tests were, in fact, illegal, because government agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission had been granted powers that effectively rendered them autonomous and unaccountable to the rest of the democratic process. Furthermore, because tests were conducted without the express consent of the world’s population, and because the presumably harmful effects of testing (the plaintiffs argued that there was no safe dosage of radiation as it pertained to any potential impact on the pool of human germ plasm) clearly spread beyond the borders of nations, nuclear testing violated the constitutional and human rights of all individuals.

The U.S. government, acting as defendant in the U.S. filing, responded by admitting to certain of the plaintiffs facts regarding the potential effects of weapons tests, but also by submitting that the plaintiffs had no legal standing to sue. The defense argued that the question of weapons testing was not judiciable and that testing, like war, was in fact protected by the constitution.

The Fallout Suits did go to trial in the U.S. and the U.K., and in both instances the courts sided with the defense. In the U.S. the judges ruled according to a narrow interpretation of tort law; in simplest terms, because none of the individual plaintiffs could prove that they themselves had been harmed by nuclear weapons tests, none of those individuals had a right to sue. (A group of Marshall Islanders, on the other hand, who had been manifestly harmed by tests in the south Pacific, were not allowed to sue because of their status in the U.S. as non-resident aliens.) A similar interpretation was upheld in Great Britain and the Suits never made it to trial in the Soviet Union.

Higuchi with Judith and Peter Freeman, sponsors of the Resident Scholar Program.

Higuchi with Judith and Peter Freeman, sponsors of the Resident Scholar Program.

Though the Fallout Suits did not succeed, Higuchi argues that they did help establish a template for later successful activism. In a literal sense, Vietnam War-era litigation concerning the harmful effects of Agent Orange did gain traction as did other efforts carried out by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. Furthermore, in terms of constructing a narrative powerful enough to grasp the imagination of large groups of people, Higuchi points out that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, just four years after the Fallout Suits were filed, draws many comparisons between the deleterious effects of DDT and earlier claims regarding nuclear fallout issued by Pauling and others.  Clearly, while the Suits themselves did not meet with success, their impact was felt for many years to follow.

To learn more about the Fallout Suits, read this draft press release announcing the suits, as included on our website Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History.  A profile of Dr. Burt Davis, an earlier recipient of the Resident Scholarship, is available here.

Creating The Pauling Catalogue: More than One-Thousand Illustrations

In 1931 Linus Pauling was the first recipient of the American Chemical Society's A.C. Langmuir Award, an annual recognition of the best young chemists in the U.S. This cartoon was published in the Double Bond, Jr., a satirical newspaper produced in conjunction with the A.C.S. meeting that year.

[Part 5 of 9] The Pauling Catalogue contains over 1,200 illustrations in its 1,700+ pages of text. The long process underlying the selection of these images was based upon two fundamental guiding principles.

First, it was the goal of the editorial team that The Pauling Catalogue be used to display certain of the more important documents and artifacts held within the Pauling Papers.  Accordingly, annotated reproductions of such noteworthy items as Rosalind Franklin’s famous “Photo 51,” Watson and Crick’s original DNA structure typescript, and Pauling’s legendary “peace placard” are all included.

Of near equal importance was the desire to use image descriptions to tell some of the fascinating but less well-known stories imbued within the Pauling biography.  Part of the archivist’s mission is to provide context for the documents held within their collections.  The editorial team sought to achieve this end by composing extensive captions for a number of illustrations that, on the surface, would not seem to be altogether very interesting.

Two fascinating examples are included below. From the Pauling publications bibliography in Volume I: From the Pauling Honors and Awards listings in Volume III:

In certain other instances, custom illustrations were created by the project team for exclusive inclusion in The Pauling Catalogue.  This composite view of many of Pauling’s medals, plaques and certificates is a perfect example:

18 awards composite

The source images for this illustration are freely available on the web at the Linus Pauling: Awards, Honors and Medals website. The composite image was created using an Excel spreadsheet and a custom PerlScript, which randomized the images. Once randomized, the images were then imported into an InDesign grid with this final composite graphic as the output. Image courtesy of Eric Arnold.

Finally, image series were included throughout the publication to great effect.  The following example is particularly interesting in its depiction of the wide-variety of content included in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers:

An example of the remarkable diversity of content- and format-types in the Pauling collection.

An example of the remarkable diversity of content- and format-types in the Pauling collection.

Illustrations were selected, scanned and organized using Excel spreadsheets. Each spreadsheet contained information on a selected item’s catalogue identification number, its location as an illustration within the published catalogue and the caption text written for the image.

An example of the Excel spreadsheets used to establish intellectual control over the 1,200+ illustrations used in The Pauling Catalogue.

An example of the Excel spreadsheets used to establish intellectual control over the 1,200+ illustrations used in The Pauling Catalogue.

Documents were scanned with a goal of achieving a minimum print resolution of 300 dots per inch, meaning that certain very small artifacts (slides, for example) required very high scan resolutions – upwards of 2400 dots per inch. As a result, the final tally of 1,200+ image scans required a sizeable amount of storage space – more than 36 gigabytes in total.

A peek at the file directory structure for a portion of the images scanned and used in The Pauling Catalogue

A peek at the file-directory structure for a portion of the images scanned and used in The Pauling Catalogue

The Pauling Catalogue

The Pauling Catalogue

Close to 350 hours were logged discerning and negotiating copyright permissions for items not controlled by the OSU Libraries. This process was made all the more difficult by the fact that many of the items in the Pauling photo collection are classified as “orphan works,” e.g. images for which little or nothing is known concerning copyright provenance.  The project team’s rule of thumb was to conduct due diligence in pursuing contact information for any illustration, no matter how old.

In other instances, archival context was added to image scans to enhance a given illustration’s fair-use characteristics.

Lastly, a small number of illustrations were purchased for one-time print use. (Which means, unfortunately, that we can’t show them off here!)

The Pauling Catalogue is available for purchase at