Sidebar Omnibus

Detail from a painting by Johannes Zacharias Simon Prey, Wellcome Library

Several new links have crept into our sidebar in recent months, and we thought we’d take a moment to talk about what you’ll find if you give them a click.

The most obvious is the Linus Pauling Science Center construction webcam.  In late September 2009, we covered the ground breaking ceremony for $62.5 million building project, and what was at that time a big hole in the ground is now starting to bear some resemblance to its final form.  The Pauling Science Center, which is among the early tangible results of Oregon State University’s ongoing capital campaign, will house the Linus Pauling Institute as well as chemists from the College of Science.  At 105,000 square feet the Center will be the largest academic building on campus as well as a stunning illustration of just how far the Institute has come since its 1973 founding in a Menlo Park, California rental space.

Under the “Archives and Special Collections” sidebar header, we have added a link to the magnificent Wellcome Library blog, a collaborative venture that publishes new content virtually every day.  Based in London, the Wellcome Library is perhaps the world’s foremost repository for materials documenting the history of medicine.  Last year the Library embarked upon a major digitization effort that seeks to grant online access to a huge amount of the Wellcome’s vast collections.  Their blog – not unlike our own project – both highlights certain interesting components of their collections while simultaneously providing a glimpse behind the scenes of their various curatorial and digitization processes.  As a library and as a blog, they are an inspiration to us.

Lastly, we were delighted to find Sam Kean’s Blogging the Periodic Table site, hosted by the online magazine slate.com.  Kean is the author of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, and he’s been using his space on Slate to write about a different element each week day during the month of July.  While at first blush this may sound a bit dull, we have found that Kean’s writing is always entertaining and often enlightening.  Where else, for example, would one learn that Lewis and Clark thought to pack mercury-based laxative tablets with them as they set out to explore the new American West?

Peter Murray-Rust and the Concept of “Pauling Numbers”

Peter Murray-Rust

Peter Murray-Rust

We are delighted, on many levels, to have added Peter Murray-Rust’s blog to our gradually expanding Blogroll.  A faculty member of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Murray-Rust shares our interests in, among other topics, chemistry, xml and open access to information.

He and his team have developed a Chemical Markup Language, or CML, which is designed to help chemists represent chemical information through XML-based encoding.  He is also heavily involved with the open-source and open-data communities in attempting to facilitate the communication of technical knowledge across new media.  His blog, A Scientist and the Web, chronicles his work at the intersection of chemistry and technology, and serves as a combination of work log, diary, and long-term research publication.

Murray-Rust, as he notes in this post, has also written about Linus Pauling in the past.  One item that caught our eye was his suggestion that chemists consider the implementation of “Pauling numbers,” similar to the “Erdös numbers” adopted by mathematicians.  Erdös numbers are named after the famed mathematician Paul Erdös (1913-1996), a giant of the field remembered in nearly equal measure for his incredibly prolific scholarly legacy – his vita tallies nearly 1,500 academic papers, co-authored with 511 of his peers – and his loveably eccentric lifestyle.

(Briefly, Erdös spent the bulk of his career living out of a suitcase.  His habit was to travel from university to university or conference to conference, introduce himself to a colleague, declare that “my brain is open,” and stay until a paper or two had been generated.  He never married and had no children – mathematics was his life.  For those interested in learning more, the highly engaging biography The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth, comes highly recommended.)

The great Paul Erdös

The great Paul Erdös

The Erdös number is a measure of how closely a given scholar was able to collaborate with Paul Erdös at any given point amidst those 1,500 mathematical papers.  Murray-Rust describes the numbers using a definition supplied by Wikipedia:

In order to be assigned an Erdös number, an author must co-write a mathematical paper with an author with a finite Erdös number. Paul Erdös has an Erdös number of zero. If the lowest Erdös number of a coauthor is X, then the author’s Erdös number is X + 1.  Erdös wrote around 1,500 mathematical articles in his lifetime, mostly co-written. He had 504 direct collaborators [now updated to 511]; these are the people with Erdös number 1. The people who have collaborated with them (but not with Erdös himself) have an Erdös number of 2 (6,984 people), those who have collaborated with people who have an Erdös number of 2 (but not with Erdös or anyone with an Erdös number of 1) have an Erdös number of 3, and so forth. A person with no such coauthorship chain connecting to Erdös has an undefined (or infinite) Erdös number.

The Erdös number phenomenon has developed a rather potent subculture – see, for example, the painstakingly detailed Erdös Number Project hosted by Oakland University.  According to the Oakland database, Linus Pauling has an Erdös number of 4.  Murray-Rust is able to generate an Erdös number of 7 for himself, before promptly submitting to disqualification due to his linking paper making its way to Erdös through non-mathematical terrain.

From here Murray-Rust suggests that the world of chemistry follow the mathematicians’ lead and adopt the concept of Pauling numbers as a means through which contemporary chemists might navigate their way through the Pauling family tree.  As author of more than 1,100 publications – though, admittedly, not all on scientific topics – Pauling, whom Murray-Rust describes as “the chemist of the twentieth century,” certainly provides a large data set ripe for the mining.

We should like to add an additional note to something that Peter Murray-Rust mentions near the end of his Pauling Blog post:  “And finally a personal connection Catherine Murray-Rust was in the library at the time that the Pauling collection was being compiled.”  Now the Dean of Libraries at Georgia Tech, Catherine was, for several years, one of our bosses here in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.  We recall with fondness our collaboration together and wish her the very best in her current endeavors.

Reflections on Year One of The Pauling Blog

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Today marks the first anniversary of The Pauling Blog, and in celebration we’re announcing a new addition to our blogroll, archivematica.

Over the past few months, The Pauling Blog has featured a number of posts on our digitization projects which have, in turn, garnered a fairly-substantial amount of reader interest. While we will continue to post about our work here, we would also like to offer our readers access to other information about digitization efforts around the web. Hence archivematica, a blog about Peter Van Garderen and his work as a digital archive designer and analyst.

Peter is the president and senior consultant of Artefactual Systems, Inc. and a doctoral candidate in archival science at the University of Amsterdam. Peter’s doctoral work is concerned with digital archives in both a practical and social context, focusing on issues of public access and cross-archival collaboration. In his spare time, Peter uses archivematica to blog about developments in the world of archives, his Artefactual-related projects, and his scholastic research. For a topical and literate look into the mind of a professional archivist, we highly recommend a visit to archivematica.

Additional information about Peter Van Garderen’s work, thesis, and the Artefactual team can be found here.


This is the 112th post that we’ve generated in our year of blogging and at the time of this writing, the project has attracted a hair over 13,000 views.  More importantly, readership is increasing steadily – despite it’s being the shortest of the twelve, February was, by far, our highest-trafficked month to date at just over seventy views per day.  Numbers like these do not a blog empire make, but we’re heartened by the feedback that we’ve been receiving and are glad to likewise note that older posts are being found in equal measure to newer content.

Here is a look at the top ten most-viewed posts of this past year.

  1. Roger Hayward (1899-1979): Architect, Artist, Illustrator, Inventor, Scientist [published 4-22-08; 2,287 views]
  2. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle [5-29-08; 408]
  3. Featured Document: Linus Pauling’s Birth Certificate [3-31-08; 231]
  4. Roger Hayward and Linus Pauling [5-1-08; 190]
  5. Creating the Pauling Catalogue: Formatting Text with XML and XSL [8-12-08; 189]
  6. Linus Pauling and the Birth of Quantum Mechanics [5-20-08; 187]
  7. Cancer and Vitamin C Redux [9-30-08; 180]
  8. The Martha Chase Effect [1-2-09; 174]
  9. The Paternal Ancestry of Linus Pauling [9-23-08; 168]
  10. Scenes from the Linus Pauling Legacy Award [5-6-08; 168]

Pretty clearly we’ve tapped into the “Martha Chase Effect” with our series on Roger Hayward, which shows up in two spots on the front page of the Google results for the “Roger Hayward” simple search…though this being the Internet, it surely does not hurt that this image is among the many used to illustrate the super-popular “Architect, Artist, Illustrator…” post.


Thinking back on these past twelve months, the main theme that strikes us about our project is just how much work it really requires.  Five people have written posts for the site, and in any given week two students and one faculty member devote upwards of 30 hours to generating ideas for the blog, researching them and writing them up.

But we feel that it’s worth the effort.  The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections is a little bit unusual relative to many of our colleagues in that virtually every project in which we engage has some sort of web element attached to it as an ultimate goal.  A major component of this directive is the (also unusual) fact that one of our three full-time staffmembers is an I.T. consultant.  In short, we are very Internet-centric in our mission and our workflows.

This being the case, The Pauling Blog gives us an opportunity to feature smaller components of certain very large projects and also to talk about some of the methods that have been developed to help smooth the marriage between traditional archival practice and the world wide web.  As such, our readers can expect to see more of the same throughout the coming year – two posts per week on topics related to Linus Pauling or bits of news from within the department, a few fairly techical write-ups and the occasional post done just for the fun of it.  Thanks for reading!

Physics and Physicists Hits the Blogroll

The Pauling Blog recently discovered Physics and Physicists, a blog about – you guessed it – all things physics.  The blogger behind it all, ZapperZ, keeps his readers updated on events within the physics community, discussing everything from politics to academia to pure science.  For those readers who enjoyed our posts on quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we highly recommend checking out P & P to see what a trained physicist has to say.

For additional information about Pauling and his various applications of physics, visit Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond or the OSU Libraries  Special Collections homepage.

Homunculus Joins the Blogroll

Linus Pauling, in lecture at the California Institute of Technology. 1935.

Linus Pauling, in lecture at the California Institute of Technology. 1935.

Philip Ball, a successful London-based writer, currently publishes for Nature‘s online news site and runs a science blog entitled Homunculus. He regularly reposts his Nature articles on the blog and discusses a wide variety of scientific papers, articles, news and research. From chemistry to computer tech, Ball’s blog covers it all, often combining strong scientific insight with wit and a tasteful hint of sarcasm. Entertaining and information-packed, Homunculus is sure to catch the interest of any science-minded reader.

And the Blogroll Grows

We’ve recently added Gustav Holmberg’s blog, Imaginary Magnitude, to our blogroll.  This sleek, no nonsense weblog is focused on the history of science.  Holmberg himself is a historian of science at the Research Policy Institute in Sweden.  He’s been in the blogging game since 2003 and the Imaginary Magnitude archives are filled with interesting little gems including a number of discussions on his papers and projects.  Take some time to check out Imaginary Magnitude and we’re sure you’ll find more than a few items to attract your attention.

Blogroll Updates

Have a look to the right.

Have a look to the right.

If you’ll please turn your attentions to the right side of this page, you’ll note the long-awaited addition of three new links to our blogroll. Each represents a fantastic resource that, we’re quite sure, will make for some interesting reading.

The Culture of Chemistry is run by Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr College. Naturally curious about the world around her, she uses everyday experiences to explore the chemistry behind modern living. Francl also maintains a Weird Words of Science series that discusses the history and uses of scientific words. Her main focus is chemistry learning, both in and out of the classroom. Whether you’re interested in chemistry education, or simply want a nifty science fact to impress your friends, we highly recommend a trip to this blog.

Entropy Bound, is operated by Peter Steinberg, a nuclear physicist in New York. He uses his blog to discuss a variety of physics-related topics including, but not limited to, aspects of his own work. While certain components of this site may be a little on the technical side for some readers, anyone with an interest in physics is sure to find plenty of engaging tidbits. If you’re interested in his work, make sure to check out the lecture slide PDFs that Peter has made available.

Lynne Thomas, Head Curator of Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, has developed Confessions of a Curator, a window into the archival milieu. Thomas regularly posts on the various collections housed at NIU and the ways in which her team is handling its records. She also reports on events, talks, and news relating to the profession. Her site is a terrific asset for anybody interested the exciting world (really!) of archives and special collections.

Because our posts cover a variety of fields, we have now implemented a new blogroll breakdown, dividing our links sections into Chemistry, Physics, Archives & Special Collections, and History of Science. Links to plenty more great sites will be added in the weeks to come.

As always, we’d love to hear from our readers. If there’s a Pauling-related topic about which you would like to learn more, please do let us know. Likewise, if you feel that your project fits in well with the theme of The Pauling Blog and would like to be included on our blogroll, shoot us an email with a link to your site. We can be reached at special[dot]collections[at]oregonstate[dot]edu.

Finally, a special note of thanks to our OSU Libraries colleague Margaret over at infodoodads for her kind review of our work. Margaret, your next bottle of vitamin C is on us!