First Years as Division Chair: Implementing the Rockefeller Grant and Dedicating Crellin

NDi.006

Image of the Crellin Laboratory taken around the time of its dedication in 1938.

[Pauling as Administrator]

Towards the end of the summer of 1937, Linus Pauling was confident that the Rockefeller Foundation would award a $300,000 grant to both the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Indeed, so confident was Pauling that he requested permission from the Caltech Executive Council to leverage the forthcoming funds and begin spending immediately on a combined recording microphotometer, densitometer, and comparator. Once permission had been granted, Pauling secured the services of Fred Henson, who had constructed an apparatus of this sort for J. W. McBain of Stanford. Henson agreed to deliver a similar device to Caltech within one year for $2,600 — a thousand dollars less than he normally charged. Pauling also used $850 from funding provided by the British hydrocarbon company M. W. Kellogg to purchase a different instrument.

These new purchases would be put to use in the nearly finished Crellin Laboratory, and staffing and outfitting the facility was an issue of pressing concern. While Pauling and Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver were still holding out a sliver of hope that the Scottish chemist Alexander Todd would relocate to Pasadena to head the new laboratory, another Rockefeller-funded hire, Carl Niemann, was in the process of equipping and stocking the facility. As he moved forward with this work, Niemann put forth the suggestion that a “central analytical laboratory for the entire department,” with one person in charge, be identified to save space and minimize redundant equipment purchases. This shared laboratory would cost about $3,500 to $4,500 to outfit, whereas the cost of consumables at comparable four-person laboratories ranged from $1,200 to $8,000. Niemann planned to finalize these arrangements in the fall before leaving for a year-long trip to Europe.


In December 1937, after years of negotiation and coordination, Pauling’s feelings of confidence were validated when the Rockefeller Foundation’s Board of Trustees finally approved the Caltech biochemistry grant. Funds would be dispersed beginning in July 1938, and would coincide with the Chemistry division’s move into Crellin. The proposed budget for the first year of the grant largely followed Warren Weaver’s earlier suggestion of $60,000, though Pauling made a successful push for an extra $10,000 to augment organic chemistry research salaries and equipment. When Alexander Todd, following a May visit, ultimately decided not to come to Caltech, the spending plan returned to $60,000. The following year, Pauling shifted the extra $10,000 allocation into hiring researchers and assistants while also purchasing more equipment.

In February 1938, as plans began to settle, Pauling wrote a letter of thanks to Weaver, expressing his gratitude to the Rockefeller board for approving their grant application, and to Weaver for his ideas on how best to develop organic chemistry at Caltech, an initiative that was going smoothly. Pauling likewise acknowledged his personal indebtedness to Weaver for helping to fund and secure his own research. Colleagues of significant consequence including Robert Corey and Max Delbruck had come aboard under the grant and were doing good work. Pauling himself was also warming up to Weaver’s vision, writing, “I am getting more interested in biological problems every day, and am anxious to see our new program in effect.”


1947i.8

Pauling and Arthur Hill at Yale University, 1947

Amidst all of this progress, a test of Pauling’s commitment to his new position as chair arose less than a year after his official appointment. In March 1938, Arthur Hill, a chemist at Yale University, offered Pauling a Sterling Professorship, the highest professorial rank awarded by the university. Pauling’s proposed salary at Yale would be $10,000 and he would also benefit from the services of a private assistant.

Pauling thought hard about the offer, at first replying that he would need a week to think about it. That week stretched into five, and ended with Pauling’s decision to stay at Caltech. In turning down the opportunity, Pauling explained to Hill that he had only recently become chair of a growing division, a circumstance that not only promised to open up new areas of research for himself, but presented him with “an attractive opportunity for contributing effectively to science” by shaping the development of the division. Hill was disappointed, but admitted that the research capacity available at Yale could not compete with what had been built at Caltech.


Feeling more established in his new position as chair, Pauling wrote to Caltech Executive Council chair Robert Milliken in April 1938 that “The outlook for the Division during the next few years is very attractive, especially for the field of the organic chemistry of biological substances.” That said, Pauling was looking for further backing from upper administration. Pauling already had a promise in hand from Caltech’s Board of Trustees that $40,000 would be made available as a complement to the Rockefeller funds, but he wanted further reassurance from Millikan that the Institute would continue to support the division’s nascent biochemistry research well into the future. Buoyed by the momentum of recent months, Millikan was glad to offer this assurance.


On May 16, 1938, the Crellin Laboratory was formally dedicated at a ceremony featuring addresses from Pauling and the building’s patron and namesake, Edward Crellin. In his remarks, Crellin told the audience,

It is pleasing to note the physical union of this building with the new unit of the great William G. Kerckhoff Laboratories of the Biological Sciences, thus enabling Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan and Dr. Linus Pauling and their associates literally to join hands in the search for, if not the elixir of life, a better understanding of vital processes, leading to better health and longer and happier lives.

For his part, Pauling gave a largely impromptu address, noting how he would have to restrict himself as he was used to lecturing for an hour and not giving five minute speeches. Later, once the facility was up and running, Pauling asked Arnold Beckman to write about it for Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Analytical Edition, the predecessor journal of today’s Analytical Chemistry.


With Crellin dedicated and the Rockefeller grant in effect, Weaver and Pauling continued their brainstorming about who best to head research in the new laboratory. In the summer of 1938, Weaver mentioned to Pauling that Laszlo Zechmeister, a biochemist from Hungary who had developed chromatography methods to separate enzymes, was visiting the United States and suggested that Pauling invite him to Pasadena. Pauling obliged, arranging for Zechmeister to give three lectures on chromatography, carotenoids, and polysaccharides in November.

As it turned out, Pauling was impressed by the quality of Zechmeister’s presentations, and began to think more seriously about hiring him following a weekend trip to Mexico that he and Ava Helen took with Zechmeister and his wife. Pauling’s estimation of Zechmeister rose in particular once he had learned more about the extent to which Zechmeister had managed to produce as a scientist despite working in a poorly equipped Budapest lab. Though Zechmeister departed from Pasadena without a formal job offer, he would soon become an important figure at Caltech’s new research facility.

First Years as Division Chair: Responsibilities Large and Small

bio6.003.002-chair

Pasadena Post, May 5, 1937

[Pauling as Administrator]

During the final phase of Linus Pauling’s ascension into the positions of Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Chemical Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology, the construction of the Crellin Laboratory lurked in the background with several adjustments to the building plans needing to be made. In May 1937, recognizing that the project was over budget, the Division Council began looking for ways to save money on equipment like table tops and hoods. When September arrived and the project was still short, Edward Crellin agreed to make an additional gift of $5,000 specifically for floor coverings, an amount that was still not enough to fully cover costs.

That fall, Pauling was in residence at Cornell University as George Fischer Baker Lecturer, and he took the opportunity to investigate the floors that had been installed at the Baker Laboratory. Once done, Pauling wrote to his Caltech colleague Arnold O. Beckman, who was overseeing the furnishing of the Crellin facility, and told him that Battleship linoleum had done well in its fourteen years of covering the halls and offices at Cornell. Resolite, on the other hand, had not endured quite so nicely. Beckman followed up accordingly by testing Resolite against Tex-tile, which Caltech’s contractor had recommended as a possible alternative. Beckman reported that both materials “softened” when they came into contact with organic solvents, but Resolite would be a more economical purchase. As a result, Beckman decided that they would use Resolite in the laboratories, despite Pauling’s misgivings, and linoleum in the hallways and offices. Otherwise, the building was nearing completion as it had been painted and awaited furnishing.


As chair, Pauling was obligated to keep a close eye on the division’s budget and to think hard about the best ways to direct funding. In this, Pauling’s bias was clearly in favor of devoting funds to research. In one instance, when colleague Howard J. Lucas requested support to attend a conference on the East Coast, Pauling replied that because Lucas was not presenting a paper, the division could not provide funding. In the future, Pauling suggested, Lucas should arrange to give talks when travelling east. Pauling did, however, agree that it would be a good idea for Lucas to hire an assistant to help him with his research on bean pod hormones and set about securing funding for a six month temporary position.

Though administrative responsibilities now occupied much of his time, Pauling continued to teach, including the graduate courses “On the Nature of the Chemical Bond” and “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics with Chemical Applications.” As chairman, Pauling also held more sway in shaping what was taught both within the division and across Caltech. Before his first year as chair had been completed, Pauling used his new title to push for the development of broader course work in organic chemistry across the campus. And in this case Pauling saw quick results, in no small measure because of lingering momentum from A.A. Noyes’ activities as the previous division chair and the influx of money coming from the Rockefeller Foundation. Indeed, one might intuit Pauling’s satisfaction in writing “Carried!” next to an agenda motion stipulating that, for seniors in physics, applied physics and astronomy, Caltech remove required courses in statistics and replace them with organic chemistry classes.

Within the division, Pauling had to work with the Division Council before proposing any changes to the curriculum. In spring 1938, the council approved an optional second year of organic chemistry for seniors, a request that the students themselves had been making. By 1942, the organic chemistry requirement became uniform across the division, with applied chemistry majors taking the coursework as juniors alongside chemistry majors. In 1955, Pauling suggested that the organic chemistry requirement be moved to the sophomore year. He also felt that there was too much physical chemistry in the sophomore curriculum.

Early on as chair of the division, Pauling also worked to keep graduate students connected to the research of the division’s rapidly growing staff, which, bolstered by Rockefeller support, had increased by fifteen people in his first year. The total number of graduate students also increased from 25 to 45, each of whom received stipends of $600 to $860 a year as assistants. When he first became chair, Pauling was only ten years older than most of these graduate students, and he made a point of inviting them to his home or to desert camping trips to learn more about their work, ambitions and points of view. Pauling wanted this closeness to translate across the division and, in September 1938, proposed that faculty participate in regular seminars where they would present their research internally. Pauling gave the first talk in this series, providing an update on his hemoglobin studies. He also made it clear that he expected others to follow his lead.


Though he was aggressive in putting forth and pushing his agenda, Pauling also demonstrated an ability to respond to faculty concerns, the first instance being complaints calling for a new instrument maker within the division. Specifically, Pauling asked Arnold Beckman about the possibility of replacing the current instrument maker with someone younger who would manage all of the responsibilities assumed by the instrument shop. As it turned out, Beckman had already been searching for someone new, but had not found anyone yet. Beckman preferred looking off campus, and would continue his search there.


The most significant administrative tasks on Pauling’s plate were the building of the Crellin facility and the securing of stable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. In May 1937, Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver sent Pauling a detailed four-page letter outlining the ways in which Caltech could improve its Rockefeller grant application by including the anticipated costs of equipment along with more details on how the Division of Biology would use their allotment of funds. Weaver also warned Pauling that his request for an increase from $10,000 to $15,000 per year for his own research in structural chemistry was a “retrograde step” that was best avoided. Further suggestions from Weaver laid out an ideal path for distributing funds from a potential $60,000 annual award, with $10,000 going to Biology, $10,000 to structural chemistry, $35,000 to organic chemistry research, and another $5,000 earmarked for organic chemistry equipment.

These suggestions, which Weaver also conveyed to T. H. Morgan in the Division of Biology, were incorporated into a revised application that was submitted by the two divisions in August 1937. At that same time, the Chairman of the Caltech Executive Council, Robert Millikan, told Weaver that, if Caltech received the grant, they would prefer that it begin the following July, when the new Crellin Laboratory would be ready.

While Pauling continued to work out the details of the Rockefeller request, he also took steps to safeguard support for his own projects in negotiation with Caltech’s Executive Council. While Weaver wanted assurance from the council that they would continue to support biochemical work after the Rockefeller grant had been exhausted, Pauling too was seeking a guarantee that they would continue funding his structural chemistry work, since the Rockefeller Foundation would not increase its contribution. Pauling eventually asked the Executive Council provide $50,000 a year for the former and $5,000 a year for the latter. Robert Millikan and Richard Tolman made a similar appeal to Caltech’s Board of Trustees the following month, and the board agreed to this request.

Meanwhile, Weaver continued to push Pauling on who he should hire with the Rockefeller money, qualifying his reactions to Pauling’s choices thus far as “not entirely enthusiastic.” For Weaver, Pauling’s suggestion of the brothers R. R. Williams and Roger Williams represented “a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise between the ideal of a young, well-trained and exceedingly brilliant man, such as [Alexander] Todd or [Carl] Niemann, and a thoroughly experienced and broadly interested world leader, such as we should like to find but cannot.” In response, Pauling suggested that they shift their energies to support someone like Niemann, who was already coming to Caltech the following year. Pauling and Weaver alike assumed that Todd, a future Nobel Prize-winner who was based in London, was likely not available, but both did their best to try to recruit him to Pasadena.

 

Becoming Division Chair: Pauling Takes the Reins

1936i.11

Linus Pauling, 1936.

[Pauling as Administrator]

In mid-July 1936, Pauling received a thought-provoking letter from Christopher Kelk Ingold of University College London. In it, Ingold wondered if Pauling might be tempted to replace F. G. Donnan as chair of the university’s Department of Chemistry. For Ingold, this was a bit of a fishing expedition and he made it plain that he did not really expect Pauling to take the idea seriously.

As such, it likely came as a surprise when Ingold received Pauling’s response a month later. In his reply, Pauling revealed that he had been devoting a great deal of thought to the offer and divulged his motivations for doing so, writing

In general I have been in the past very well pleased with my opportunities here for teaching and carrying on research. Subsequent to the death of Professor Noyes, however, the affairs of our Chemistry Division have been in some confusion, and the problem of administration has not yet been solved.

Pauling also relayed his intrigue at the possibility of working with Donnan and living in in such a radically different location.

Though adjusting to life in England would surely be difficult for Pauling and his family, the challenge of doing so did not appear to be an issue of pressing concern. Rather, the only major obstacle impeding Pauling’s acceptance of the offer was its base salary of £1,200 per year, which he calculated to be less than his current Caltech salary of $6,300. Pauling also discerned that the taxes on his University College earnings would amount to £360, which was about $1,000 more per year than what he was paying in California.

Pauling communicated his concerns about the proposed salary package to Ingold, perhaps hoping that University College would reply with a counter. Instead, Ingold merely repeated the offer while reiterating his sense that it might not be enough to attract a talent of Pauling’s magnitude.

In his reply, Pauling took up their correspondence on chemical matters, but also described how the experience of meeting biophysicist Archibald Hill, who was visiting Pasadena, had made him “realize more keenly than before” that he would not miss coming to London. The courtship had reached its conclusion.


Not long after declining the University College offer, Pauling was similarly recruited for a one-year stint at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, and also for the George Fischer Baker Lectureship, a six-month visiting appointment offered by Cornell University’s Department of Chemistry. While neither of these opportunities would have taken him away from Caltech permanently, they did serve the important function of demonstrating to Pauling that he had reached a new level of stature within the profession.

Pauling’s first inclination was to choose the Baker Lectureship, though he made inquiries at Caltech to determine whether or not he could receive enough leave to fill both visiting positions. Ultimately he was extended only one semester’s worth of paid leave and so chose Cornell.

In weighing his leave options, Pauling had consulted with Robert Millikan, the chair of Caltech’s Executive Council. Millikan was pleased with the decision that Pauling made and, as a byproduct of their recent conversations, once again broached the idea of Pauling moving in to the position of division chair.

With several months having now passed, Millikan specifically asked if Pauling might still have the “desire to suggest changes in the organization of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering such as would make your continued association with and leadership of that Division satisfactory to you.” With plans for the new Crellin Laboratory finally set and construction soon to begin, resolving the question of division leadership was becoming more and more important.

Noting that Millikan was open to negotiation and sensing that he had the upper hand, Pauling waited for the new year, 1937, to respond. In doing so, Pauling made it clear that the changes that he would desire remained consistent with the suggestions the suggestions that he had put forth in his letter to the Executive Council of November 1935. Pauling also communicated his willingness to directly discuss the points he had made in his August letter with the Executive Council. As it turned out, Millikan had never forwarded Pauling’s letter to the Executive Council, so a discussion of this sort would prove essential to satisfying Pauling’s demands.


Around this time, Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation, who had favored Pauling as division chair from the start, came to Pasadena to help mediate the situation. Weaver chose to interject himself in part because Millikan, who had little interest in biochemical research, had taken over management of the potential Rockefeller grant that had been worked out with A.A. Noyes prior to Noyes’ death.

While in Pasadena, Weaver met with Pauling and listened to his concerns over the lack of power invested in the chair under the stipulations put forth by the Executive Council in Fall 1935. Pauling also discussed with Weaver his salary ambitions and desire for an appropriate title. Using the sway that he had accumulated as a major source of funding for the division, Weaver then began negotiating on Pauling’s half. It did not take long for Pauling’s salary to be increased to $9,000 in addition to the title of Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and Director of the Chemical Laboratories. It would still take several months however, before all of the details were worked out.


As Pauling and Millikan mended fences, Pauling began thinking in concrete terms about the future of the division. In mid-March 1937, he wrote a note to himself about the unit’s financial future which, in the midst of the Depression, depended heavily on the Rockefeller Foundation. Be it by choice or necessity, it is clear that Pauling was on board with the foundation’s involvement, writing that it “would help the Division as a whole both scientifically and financially.”

By now, the foundation’s influence on division affairs had become increasingly evident. One particular instance involved the hiring of Carl Niemann, a biochemist working at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, who was brought on to help staff the brand new Crellin Laboratory. At Weaver’s urging, Niemann was invited to visit Pasadena with the understanding that he would be offered a $3,000 assistant professorship starting that September. This despite the fact that Niemann was obligated to remain in Zurich until the following year.


On April 14, 1937, Millikan conveyed to Pauling that it had been informally agreed upon by the Executive Council that Pauling’s salary would increase to $9,000 in 1938 and that he would receive the title of division chair at the next Executive Council meeting. In his documentation of that conversation, Pauling wrote that

Professor Millikan intimated that I might desire the action to be postponed a little beyond that time in case that [historian William Bennett] Munro and [physicist Richard] Tolman could not be raised simultaneously to $9000 from $8100, and I replied that I preferred a definite understanding in order that I might incur certain obligations.

At a meeting of the Division Council, held on April 23, Pauling was recognized for the first time as chair, and on May 4 he was informed that the Executive Council had officially approved his appointment. By mid-August 1937, all agreements had been formalized and approved by the Board of Trustees. At long last, Pauling was finally chair.

Becoming Division Chair: Staffing a New Laboratory, Noyes’ Death, and a Conversation with Harvard

crellin-3rd

Architectural schematic for the third floor of the Crellin Laboratory.

[Pauling as Administrator]

In November 1935, Edward Crellin, a retired Pasadena steel magnate, and his spouse Amy, informed Caltech chemistry chief A.A. Noyes of their wish to provide majority funding for a new building to be used by the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Planning for this new facility promptly commenced and, by the next month, had advanced to the point where Noyes could tell the Division Council that construction would begin in spring 1937. In the meantime, fundraising and design work continued, a process that was aided by Crellin’s forgiveness of a $60,000 annuity owed to him by Caltech.

By spring 1936, the final plans appeared to be coming together for the new space. It would be called the Crellin Laboratory, and the division’s existing facility would become the Gates Laboratory. One issue of particular concern was the square footage to be made available for biochemistry research supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Another key need was finding a person suitable to organizing this work.


1950i.24-niemann-600w

Carl Niemann, 1950

Linus Pauling was tasked with leading the search for the head researcher position but, as had happened the previous year, his inquiries yielded few leads. In his correspondence with Thorfin Hogness, a close colleague at the University of Chicago, Pauling learned that they too were looking for someone similar. This shared difficulty encountered by both institutions reflected a growing interest in biochemical research nation-wide that had been catalyzed, in no small measure, by the Rockefeller Foundation.

More promising suggestions came from Moses Gomberg at Johns Hopkins University and from the Rockefeller Foundation itself, in the form of Warren Weaver. Gomberg suggested Edwin Buchman and Weaver suggested Carl Niemann, but both struck Pauling as being too early in their careers to fill this position. Making a trip back East, Pauling began to search in person, interviewing “young bio-organic chemists” and getting “advice from several older ones.”

The most important conversation that Pauling had during this trip was with Warren Weaver. In it, Pauling learned that the Rockefeller Foundation would not commit to even a “small grant” for “preliminary investigations,” if the division was not able to meet an April 1937 deadline for submitting a “well worked out plan” for initial implementation in September. Weaver also shared his sense that the foundation’s trustees would likely not consent to supporting a program headed by “only young and relatively untried men at the beginning of their careers.”

Having received this guidance, Pauling suggested that Caltech hire a mid-career candidate who had already made significant contributions, and then add young men who could be groomed by this individual. The only person whom Pauling had met so far who approached this description was Hans T. Clark, a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia University. Pauling worried though, that Clark’s research was not “outstanding.” Another possibility was Samuel Gurin, a National Research Fellow at the University of Illinois and Pauling’s favorite among the “young men” that he had interviewed.

In the end, neither Clark nor Gurin was hired. Instead, Edwin Buchman and Carl Niemann – the two candidates suggested by Moses Gomberg and Warren Weaver – were brought on as temporary junior appointments. Though young, both were brimming with promise: Niemann had already published ten papers by the age of twenty-five, and Buchman quickly secured funding for his research on vitamin B1. As it turned out, both also stayed at Caltech for the remainder of their careers.


192-i.147

A.A. Noyes

On June 6, 1936, with the Crellin facility still in its planning phase and a succession plan for division leadership still not in hand, A.A. Noyes passed away. For many in the division, sadness at Noyes’ passing was amplified by feelings of resentment toward Pauling, the likely new chair, who was widely seen as having pressed the issue of succession too aggressively during Noyes’ final days. For this and other reasons, many colleagues favored the appointment of physicist Richard Tolman instead, forcing him, just four days after Noyes’ death, to clarify that he would not accept the position if offered.

Tolman’s preemptive refusal fell on deaf ears with the Executive Council, who recommended him anyway. Tolman, who was already Dean of the Graduate School and whose research did not comfortably align with the division’s broader work, responded to the council once more at the end of June, explaining

I am very appreciative – and indeed quite touched – by this expression of confidence on the part of the members of the Executive Council. Nevertheless, both from the point of view of my own work and from that of the welfare of the Institute, I do not think that it would be wisest for me to accept.

For his part, Tolman still favored the plan that he had devised the previous year with Noyes, George Ellery Hale and Robert Millikan, wherein it was recommended that Pauling take over as leader working in tandem with the Division Council. Tolman noted that as “an outstanding chemist, who is actively engaged in chemical research, who has a good knowledge of the chemical work being done in this and in other countries, and who is himself recognized as a man who is now making important contributions to chemistry,” Pauling was the perfect candidate. Tolman also hoped that the Division Council structure could be maintained and put forth that, as originally planned, he would continue to serve on the council since it was a position from which he could most effectively benefit the division.


Pauling’s strong objections to the Tolman group’s proposal in general, and the Division Council structure in particular continued to hold. Feeling that the window for advancing on acceptable terms at Caltech was nearing its close, Pauling also began to seriously entertain the idea of working elsewhere.

In 1929, Harvard University had recruited Pauling for a position as Professor of Physical Chemistry, an offer that Pauling ultimately refused. Seven years later, the division chairmanship seemingly out of reach, Pauling wrote to the new President of Harvard, James B. Conant, asking if the 1929 offer was still a consideration. Conant replied that the position had since been filled by one of Pauling’s former students, E. Bright Wilson, and that Harvard was not presently in a position to create a new job for Pauling. This news came as a disappointment, but other opportunities were soon to arrive.

Pauling v. Wrinch

“Report on the work of Dr. Dorothy Wrinch.” Written by Linus Pauling and submitted to the Rockefeller Institute. March 31, 1938.

[Part 3 of 4]

Dorothy Wrinch’s 1937 American tour brought her, and her highly controversial cyclol hypothesis, into the public consciousness. She attracted a lot of attention, but mistook that attention for firm support. Thus buoyed, she began making outsized claims as to the importance of her theory and, more importantly, false claims that it had already been scientifically proven. Wrinch’s rhetoric caused many of her friends and colleagues to distance themselves from her and her ideas. And when Pauling ultimately agreed to meet with Wrinch in Ithaca, New York, the gloves came off: Pauling slammed her ideas as plainly ridiculous, more fancy than fact.

The critical reaction to Wrinch’s ideas soon built into an onslaught. When she returned to the U.K., a group of British x-ray crystallographers argued that her suggestions were false. While Wrinch claimed that x-ray crystallography proved her theory, these scientists pointed out that, to the contrary, crystallographic results actively disproved her cyclols.

Stateside, Linus Pauling and Carl Niemann officially got in on the act with their publication of “The Structure of Proteins” in the July 1939 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. In it, the authors declared that Wrinch’s cyclol cage was so thermodynamically unstable that it couldn’t even be produced in a lab intentionally, let alone be found in nature. From the article:

[We] draw the rigorous conclusion that the cyclol structure cannot be of primary importance for proteins; if it occurs at all…not more than about three percent of the amino acid residues could possess this configuration. [emphasis theirs]

Wrinch, who was looking for work in the U.S., was forced to respond to Pauling’s article with one of her own. In it she publicly questioned his competency and stated that “opponents of the cyclol hypothesis have felt compelled to fall back upon arguments which are specious (due to errors in logic), and upon experiments which are irrelevant…or incompetent to decide the issue.” (Although it wouldn’t be known until 1952, the last part of her accusation was correct – Pauling’s hypothesis was also partially inaccurate.) In an effort to keep the peace, JACS refused to publish her rebuttal until Pauling had been given a chance to review it. Once done, Pauling and Niemann wrote another response to Wrinch’s piece – one equally acidic as Wrinch’s – rebutting her response point-by-point, just as “The Structure of Proteins” had done to cyclol theory.

Their battle, played out in the pages of newspapers and among the referees of major scientific journals, was defined by vitriol for it duration. Wrinch would attack Pauling, even going after his earlier theories on chemical bond resonance; Pauling would respond, calling Wrinch’s theories unworthy of serious scientific debate. At one point, 13-year old Pam, Dorothy’s daughter, wrote a letter to Pauling, which suggested

Your attacks on my mother have been made rather too frequently. If you both think each other is wrong, it is best to prove it instead of writing disagreeable things about each other in papers. I think it would be best to have it out and see which one of you is really right.

As time passed, evidence continued to grow that Wrinch’s cylol theory was wrong. Nonetheless, she continued to defend the work with vigor. In her 1987 book on women in science, historian Pnina Abir-am wrote that Wrinch developed a “lifelong obsessive defense of her theory and refusal to follow the shifting scientific frontier.” Additionally, her counterattacks on Pauling were full of shaky logic and bad science, which reduced her credibility far more than it reduced his.

Wrinch gathered little support in the scientific community by going after Pauling, by then known to many as a major scientific figure. Frustrated, her ego again got the best of her, and she accused her colleagues of being “cowards” who were too scared of Pauling to see the truth of her theories. This strategy bore little fruit and the remainder of her support had largely vanished by the end of 1939.  By 1941 Pauling had emerged victorious and Wrinch was largely ostracized from the scientific community.

An uncommonly vitriolic letter from Pauling to David Harker concerning his role in the Wrinch affair. July 6, 1940.

Victory aside, Pauling did not cloak himself in glory with his actions. In the estimation of Pauling biographer Thomas Hager, the saga managed to “illuminate less appealing sides of Pauling’s character,” his strong-arm tactics “a demonstration of his new power.” Clearly a rising star within the scientific world, Pauling’s

prestige and acclaim brought out negative factors in his personality that became more evident as his power grew: a tendency toward self-righteousness, a desire to control situations and frame debates, and a willingness to silence those with aberrant ideas.


The aftermath of the drama found Wrinch in a severely compromised position. For starters, the Rockefeller Foundation terminated Wrinch’s fellowship, rendering her without funding as a result of her having failed to find more solid support for the cyclol theory in the five years allocated to her.

Wrinch spent the years 1939–1941 searching for jobs in the US and Canada. She lamented to her close friend, Otto Charles Glaser: “I am notoriously poor at institutions about people.” Glaser was a frequent correspondent and a big supporter of her work. Finally, in 1941, Glaser engineered a deal for Wrinch and she was offered a position as a joint visiting research professor at Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

Not long after she had moved to her new position in western Massachusetts, a mutual friend approached Wrinch and told her that Glaser was wildly in love with her. Wrinch was caught completely off guard by this news and was even more surprised when, shortly afterward, Glaser proposed to her. Wrinch asked for time to think about it before answering; she was still a bit nervous, seeing as how her first marriage had been so unhappy and ended poorly.

As she deliberated, Wrinch drew up a table of pros and cons on the topic of marrying Glaser, using terms including “net losses” and “net gains” in her contemplation. She asked Pam what she thought and her daughter told her to be careful, since her first marriage had been so awful. But on the same token, Pam thought, Glaser was a good man and Dorothy was clearly close to him. Ultimately Wrinch and Glaser were married on August 20, 1941, in the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The wedding was a private affair, but still highly photographed and publicized. The couple permanently settled down in Massachusetts. As always, Dorothy was dedicated to maintaining her career, marriage, and her motherhood.

As published in the New York Times, August 21, 1941.

As published in the New York Times, August 21, 1941.

The Origins of the Crellin Laboratory

Architectural schematic for the third floor of the Crellin Laboratory.

Architectural schematic for the third floor of the Crellin Laboratory.

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Crellin Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.  Part 1 of 3]

By the early 1920s, the California Institute of Technology had become, in the minds of some, “the hub of America’s scientific establishments.” This point of prestige was especially notable because Caltech was so new and very geographically distant from other major scientific research enterprises, which were predominantly located on the east coast or around the Great Lakes region. Part of this success was due to the construction of the Gates Chemistry Laboratories, built in 1917 and expanded in 1927.

The prestige and skill exhibited by Caltech caught the attention of the very influential and wealthy Rockefeller Foundation, which began supporting certain of the Institute’s operations in the early 1930s.  This support was crucial for many reasons, one of them being that, by 1930, the Gates Laboratory had reached capacity. A.A. Noyes, chair of the Chemistry department at the time, commented that there was “literally no space for another research man,” and that greatly expanded facilities were exactly what the department needed to fulfill its vast potential. Linus Pauling, working in the Gates Lab, opined that the Institute was home to “the most forward looking Department of Chemistry with respect to physical chemistry in the world.” This was in no small part due to the superior leadership of Noyes, who had dramatically expanded the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering departments during his legendary tenure.

X-ray apparatus assembled on Linus Pauling's desk in the basement of the Gates Laboratory, 1925. Pauling's hat is seen in the rear of the photo.

X-ray apparatus assembled on Linus Pauling’s desk in the basement of the Gates Laboratory, 1925. Pauling’s hat is seen in the rear of the photo.

The Rockefeller Foundation apparently agreed with Pauling’s assessment of Caltech’s capabilities, and in the early 1930s began to grant substantial funds to the Institute to further its leading positions in the fields of biology and chemistry. Specifically, the Institute held a key position in the development of a new field being pushed by the Foundation – a field described in 1938 as “molecular biology” by Rockefeller staffer Warren Weaver. Considering that the Great Depression was still in full swing, these additional funds were a godsend as research money was understandably difficult to come by.

In 1936, after some debate and controversy, Pauling was appointed the Chairman and Director of Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and also the Director of the Gates Laboratory of Chemistry, a position he held until 1958. Pauling was pleased with his increased responsibility and control, and decided that he wanted to revamp the department, and the labs in general, to better suit his vision for Caltech.

The Rockefeller Foundation agreed to provide Caltech with more money for purposes of expanding the Chemistry department and the Gates Lab. To this end, the Foundation also courted Edward W. Crellin, a retired steel magnate who lived in Pasadena. Fairly quickly, still in 1936, Crellin agreed to donate $350,000 – about $5.7 million in today’s dollars – in support of the construction of an expansion to the Gates lab, which was to be renamed the Gates and Crellin Chemical Laboratories. A year later, Crellin donated an additional $5,000 to provide floor coverings for the lab.

Edward W. Crellin.

Edward W. Crellin.

Pauling was so pleased by Crellin’s contributions that he named his son, born June 4, 1937, Edward Crellin Pauling. Even though Edward Crellin and Crellin Pauling never got to know each other – Edward Crellin died when Crellin Pauling was only 11 – he was still flattered by Linus Pauling’s gesture, and left $5,000 in his will for Crellin Pauling.

The architects for the building initiative were Francis Mayers, Oscar Murray, and Hardie Phillip, and the project was expensive. In March 1937, Pauling received a memo from the Chemistry department that suggested cuts to the building, in order to reduce costs. The memo listed 29 suggested reductions that would lower the total cost by $47,039. The list also included three suggested additions, which would add $965 to the bill. His eyes firmly set on a world-class facility, Pauling agreed to consider only a few minor possibilities: “omit some ceiling inserts” ($240), “simplify water proofing on vertical walls” ($450), “omit birch strips on exterior walls” ($158), and “use skim coat plaster” ($200).

In addition to the building itself, outfitting costs for the new space were also high. The equipment required for the lab to function ran to $36,000 – $51,000, depending on the contractor. In addition, basic chemicals were an extra $1,200. The Chemistry department rejected Pauling’s request for more specialized analytical machines, as they would tack on an extra $4,500.

The process of bartering for and ultimately purchasing the materials that the new lab would need was slowed down in July 1937 by over three weeks, when Carl Niemann, a colleague that Pauling had entrusted to do much of the purchasing, was hospitalized. Niemann wrote in a letter to Pauling that he had gone to see a doctor because he had a chunk of rust embedded in the cornea of his left eye, “and the first attempt to remove it was not particularly successful.” He was then hospitalized and had to “have the disturbing element removed and the seat of the injury cauterized.” Despite the potential severity of the injury, Niemann made a full recovery, and the quest to secure the necessary chemicals resumed.

Once the needed equipment and chemicals had been secured, more attention was paid to the new laboratory’s décor, and Caltech had a bronze tablet cast. The tablet, which was eventually installed at the entrance of the lab, read simply: “Crellin Laboratory of Chemistry. The Gift of Edward W. and Amy H. Crellin. 1937.”

Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins: A Documentary History

proteins-title

Today is Linus Pauling’s birthday – he would have been 112 years old.  Every year on February 28th we try to do something special and this time around we’re pleased to announce a project about which we’re all very excited: the sixth in our series of Pauling documentary history websites.

Launched today, Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins is the both latest in the documentary history series and our first since 2010’s The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling. (we’ve been a little busy these past few years)  Like Pauling’s program of proteins research, the new website is sprawling and multi-faceted.  It features well over 200 letters and manuscripts, as well as the usual array of photographs, papers, audio and video that users of our sites have come to expect.  A total of more than 400 primary source materials illustrate and provide depth to the site’s 45-page Narrative, which was written by Pauling biographer Thomas Hager.

sci14.039.6-scientificresea

Warren Weaver, 1967.

That narrative tells a remarkable story that was central to many of the twentieth century’s great breakthroughs in molecular biology.  Readers will, for example, learn much of Pauling’s many interactions with Warren Weaver and the Rockefeller Foundation, the organization whose interest in the “science of life” helped prompt Pauling away from his early successes on the structure of crystals in favor of investigations into biological topics.

So too will users learn about Pauling’s sometimes caustic confrontations with Dorothy Wrinch, whose cyclol theory of protein structure was a source of intense objection for Pauling and his colleague, Carl Niemann.  Speaking of colleagues, the website also delves into the fruitful collaboration enjoyed between Pauling and his Caltech co-worker, Robert Corey.  The controversy surrounding Pauling’s interactions with another associate, Herman Branson, are also explored on the proteins website.

Linus Pauling shaking hands with Peter Lehman in front of two models of the alpha-helix. 1950s.

Linus Pauling shaking hands with Peter Lehman in front of two models of the alpha-helix. 1950s.

Much is known about Pauling’s famously lost “race for DNA,” contested with Jim Watson, Francis Crick and a handful of others in the UK.  Less storied is the long running competition between Pauling’s laboratory and an array of British proteins researchers, waged several years before Watson and Crick’s breakthrough.  That triumph, the double helix, was inspired by Pauling’s alpha helix, discovered one day when Linus lay sick in bed, bored and restless as he fought off a cold. (This was before the vitamin C days, of course.)

Illustration of the antibody-antigen framework, 1948.

Illustration of the antibody-antigen framework, 1948.

Many more discoveries lie in waiting for those interested in the history of molecular biology: the invention of the ultracentrifuge by The Svedberg; Pauling’s long dalliance with a theory of antibodies; his hugely important concept of biological specificity; and the contested notion of coiled-coils, an episode that once again pit Pauling versus Francis Crick.

Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins constitutes a major addition to the Pauling canon. It is an enormously rich resource that will suit the needs of many types of researchers, students and educators. It is, in short, a fitting birthday present for history’s only recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes.

Happy birthday, Dr. Pauling!

1991i.135