Formulas, Pictures and Sports Drinks: The Pauling Chalkboard, Part III

Linus Pauling, 1985.

(Part 3 of 3)

While much of the real estate on Linus Pauling’s chalkboard is consumed by lists of names, a number of additional annotations, when examined, prove to be of keen interest.

Metabolic Profiling

On the right side of the board, below the last column of names, is the following text:

NSF – Mol. Str. 21 Mar.

Library 3000 21 Mar.

Aging – NIH Nutrition

American Cancer Society – Dr. Neville

Sample Bank

Mass Spectrometer

Muscular Dystrophy

Aging Patterns in mice

This particular sample of notes relates to the metabolic profiling program carried out for some time at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. As mentioned in part II of this series, a large number of names on the board were involved with the metabolic profiling program, and this particular column of text ties many of the names together. Pauling was working with numerous people from diverse backgrounds and professions. He was in contact with researchers at, among other organizations, the Institute on Aging and the American Cancer Society.

The words “sample bank” refer to urine and blood samples that were to be kept refrigerated for, potentially, decades, and ultimately to be analyzed by mass spectrometry. This particular undertaking was very ambitious, and could have provided a great deal of material for practical study. Unfortunately, the chronically underfunded Institute had trouble with their refrigeration units, and the project was eventually abandoned. (Despite the setbacks, some results of this program of research, headed by Pauling and Arthur Robinson, can be found in articles published at Stanford University as well as in certain of the Institute’s early news releases.)

A New Sports Drink

Another interesting bit of text can be found towards the lower right hand corner of the board:

C + glycine


The text is likely the basic outline of a carbonated “sports drink” being worked on by the Institute in the 1980s. The drink was to be infused with vitamins, and the Institute was developing acids that would provide alternative sweeteners. Production and research eventually halted, but it is interesting to think about what may have resulted from a successfully marketed “Paulingaide.”

Vitamin C, Cancer and Heart Disease

The following words, located in the upper right portion of the column ark, have perhaps the most basic and relevant connections to Pauling’s work.



Production of Lymphocytes

The order simply implies that ascorbate, or vitamin C, stimulates the production of lymphocytes, the major cellular components of the body’s immune system. Several studies have shown that increased levels of ascorbate generally correlate with increased levels of lymphocyte production. If nothing else, this is the most centrally relevant theme of Pauling’s work with vitamin C, and the fact that it maintained such a substantial place on his overcrowded board underlines the significance that he himself placed upon it.

In the middle of the board towards its top, is the diagram of a mystery molecule that was crafted by Pauling. Mention of the molecule (given the name “2-azido-5,8-dihydroxy-1,3,4,5,7,9,9b-heptaazaphenalene”) appeared in an article titled “A Prized Collection: Pauling Memorabilia,” published in Chemical and Engineering News in August 2000.

In a 1977 interview, Pauling was asked about his chalkboard and, in particular, about the mystery molecule.  He reponded

I had an idea in the field of organic chemistry about 40 years ago. It involved this unusual compound. Benzine has a six-membered ring of carbon atoms and this compound has three six-membered rings consisting of six carbon atoms and seven nitrogen atoms and then it has these hydroxyl groups attached. It is known that the similar substance with only one ring can be made into certain derivatives that have anti-cancer activity. And I thought that this substance with only three rings might well operate in the same way and that we should study it.

In other words, Pauling was still actively contemplating an idea that had occurred to him 40 years prior – an idea that managed to stay on his chalkboard through his death in 1994. Indeed the mystery molecule exemplifies the function of Pauling’s chalkboard, not only as a mnemonic device, but as a place holder for people and ideas that span decades.

Linus Pauling, 1991.

Left of the mystery molecule towards the top of the board, one finds a series of words written one above the other. The seemingly haphazard placement of the words diverts attention from their historical significance in terms of the latter portion of Linus Pauling’s life.



Lipoprotein a

The words almost certainly refer to research that Pauling began supporting in conjunction with a German physician named Matthias Rath, which investigated the possibility of a link between vitamin C and heart disease. Over the final years of his life, Pauling spoke of the relationship between vitamin C and heart disease in much the same way that he talked about vitamin C in terms of colds and cancer.

This writing was likely one of the last times that Pauling touched chalk to his board, as his collaboration with Rath did not develop until the early 1990s. The three words both acknowledge and hide the significance of the interaction between Rath and Pauling – a mercurial relationship for much of its duration.


Beneath an ark of name columns, adorned with the mystery molecule at its pinnacle, is a half-circle filled with pictures, figures and chemistry formulas. This area is likely where Pauling exercised the least concern for preservation, and it is supposed that this area of the board was used to aide in his discussions with visitors to his office. The space likely represents over two decades of personal interactions between Pauling and others, a spot on the board where he could explain theories and manifest abstract ideas. In essence, this half circle is where Pauling used the board in a more traditional sense – writing and erasing as suited his needs.

Linus Pauling’s chalkboard is covered in historical significance. It functioned as an important tool for a very busy man, and has preserved a telling aspect of both the history of the Linus Pauling Institute and the character of Pauling himself, in part reflecting the organization of his consciousness.


To be sure, the board is merely a fragment of Linus Pauling and his research, but it is unique and intriguing in a very personal sense. The names, pictures and diagrams on the board all represent important aspects of Pauling’s professional life. Not only does it make a valuable contribution to a room dedicated to the man’s work, it preserves the living memory of Pauling by displaying an intimate demonstration of his method.

Pauling's chalkboard, as preserved in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.


What’s With All Those Names? The Pauling Chalkboard, Part II

Linus Pauling in a laboratory at his institute, 1975.

(Part 2 of 3)

There are seventy-six names on Pauling’s chalkboard that stretch across its face in a nearly symmetrical series of columns. The people listed span a diverse range of functions and ages, and were involved at multiple intervals of Linus Pauling’s life.

A majority of the people can be sectioned off into three main categories:  administrative and clerical staff at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, operators who handled the procedural aspects of the Institute’s work, and other researchers who shared the interests and objectives of Pauling and the Institute. Though these categories explain a majority of the names on the board, further inspection reveals complexities and intricacies within and among the categories themselves. Additional names on the board have more unique significance, while the meaning of still others can only be guessed at.


In terms of administration, there are only a few known names. This is likely due to the close interaction that Pauling, as president and later chairman of the Institute’s board, maintained with administrators within the Institute. The known names include Corrine Gorham, who was a purchasing agent and member of the administrative staff, as well as Walt Davenport and Paul Buck, both early managers at the Institute.


The Institute was using mass spectrometers for much of its analytical work. A mass spectrometer is a device that converts molecules into ions in order to measure their characteristics. Many of the names on the board were connected to the use and operation of mass spectrometers. The board includes groupings for operators, assistants to operators, researchers, and even a patent holder for the devices.

There are also a great number of names that were specifically involved with the Institute’s metabolite profiling program. Generally speaking, the metabolite profiling program sought to analyze the metabolic fate of vitamin C administered to test patients. The Institute’s program specifically focused upon analysis of data collected through mass spectrometry of urine and blood samples. Included on the board are engineers involved in the project,  as well as people like Steve Burbeck, of the computer division, who developed specialized software for metabolite and protein analysis. Pauling also listed a number of specialists such as Dr. Louis Malter, who was an expert in high-vacuum systems.

Other specialists listed on the board, like Koichi Miyashita and Stuart McGuire, were involved more generally with vitamin C experiments. Likewise, a number of additional names were connected generally to work that was being done with animals. One example is Leonard McPherson, who was an engineer on several projects and developed a sensory apparatus for use in fish toxicology experiments. Pauling also listed an orthomolecular veterinarian and a Dr. Soave, who was a director of the Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine at Stanford University, and who likely served as a veterinary consultant.

The name Prof. C. G. Enke is listed in one of the first columns on the board.  Enke is a co-owner of a patent for a Tandem quadrupole mass spectrometer used for selected ion fragmentation studies – a person that Pauling likely kept in mind as a potential source for the Institute’s mass spectrometers.

Pauling's chalkboard, as preserved in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.


In terms of related research, Pauling listed several applicable yet diverse professionals. On his board one finds the names of professors, private sector developers, specialized medical professionals, and researchers from other institutes and societies.

Many of the professors listed on the board have written a number of articles that directly and indirectly related to the Institute’s work. The research topics range from epidemiology, cellular activity and hepatology, to aging, the immune system and studies of various forms of cancer.

A few of the names listed belong to people who were once research assistants for the Institute. These researchers went on to complete their doctoral studies and are now doing relevant work at universities around the world.

Among the listed researchers outside of the Institute, there are a number of people associated with many well-known foundations and organizations. Among the names on the board, one can find individuals affiliated with the American Cancer Society, the Institute of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging.

Linus Pauling, 1980s.


Several names on the board might fall under the category of “Assorted.”  These include philanthropists, correspondents and other individuals loosely connected to the interests of the Institute.

A box with two names and an abbreviation appear within one of the larger columns of names. The abbreviation, Gy topical, likely references a project that the Institute was working on, the focus of which was the topical application of vitamin C to psoriasis patients.

Dr. David Rytand is listed on the top of the board – he is an author who made significant contributions to the literature on physician Thomas Addis. Addis is, among other achievements, credited with having successfully treated Linus Pauling for nephritis, a renal condition, using a method that was far outside of the mainstream of medical thought at the time. The radical treatment program likely saved Pauling’s life, for which Pauling always understandably felt indebted.  In 1994 an article on Addis, struggled over for several years by Pauling and his co-author Kevin Lemley, was published in Biographical Memoirs.  It seems likely that Pauling would have consulted with Rytand in his development of the piece.

The last three names on the board, ending with Harald von Troschke, are a short list of German television interviewers. The date that accompanies them is seven years later than an initial interview of Pauling conducted by von Troschke in May 1976. In this interview, Pauling told von Troschke:

I think that it is the duty of scientists to help their fellow citizens to understand the problems, and to give them the benefit of their own knowledge about the scientific aspects of the problems. In addition, however, to this work of helping to educate their fellow citizens, scientists have, I think, the obligation to express their own opinions, in order to help their fellow citizens.

The names on the board that couldn’t be identified with certainty probably share some of the characteristics and context of most of the known names. It is very likely as well that certain of the unknown names were legal aides and representatives from the various points during which Pauling was involved in legal actions.  One can only guess as to the significance of a handful of additional names – some of them were important to Pauling in ways that likely will never be discerned.

The Pauling Chalkboard – A Short History

Pauling's chalkboard, as preserved in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.

(Part 1 of 3)

Nestled in the northwest corner of the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections reading room, there exists a small locked area devoted to a permanent display on the life and work of Linus Pauling. In this room you can find Pauling’s desk, his lab coat, his microscope and his Nobel medals. If you walk in you will see models, books, paperwork, pictures, awards and several measuring devices, including an hourglass and two slide rules.

In this room you will also find a large chalkboard on the back wall, covered in names, diagrams, terms, equations and messy impromptu demonstrations. The writings and drawings on the board lend unique insight into Linus Pauling’s interactions and thought processes during his time at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. It becomes clear very quickly that the man operated within a complicated web of people, places and time, necessitating some type of medium to keep lesser-known variables in order.

It is not known exactly when this chalkboard first came into Pauling’s possession. It is believed, because of the wide range of names on its face, that the board was moved to his office before the initial establishment of the Institute. Pauling rarely erased information from his board, so one can see a great bridging of years in the names and drawings, potentially spanning from the mid-1970s to the time of his death in August 1994.

In 1986 Pauling donated all of his materials to Oregon State University, the bulk of which was moved to Corvallis following his passing. Transporting the chalkboard posed a serious problem. The board was located in Palo Alto, California, and its final destination was Oregon’s mid-Willamette valley, some six-hundred miles away. Because it was the intention of those involved to preserve the board exactly as Pauling had left it, there existed great concern about the potential for damage that the moving process might inflict upon this fragile information while in transit.

Coating the board with a preserving fluid was considered, and numerous museums were consulted as to how the move might be accomplished without damaging the chalk writing. This method was discarded, however, as it was determined that, due to the porous molecular nature of the artifact, certain amounts of chalk dust would be pulled into the board upon the application of a sealant.  The notion of a permanent glass cover was also entertained, though it was feared that this method might produce enough static electricity to pull dust off of the board.

Eventually, the curators decided to build a custom crate, with a foam rubber edge, into which the board would be carefully placed. The board itself has a border that protrudes from its face, and the space between the edge of the border and the board itself was enough to ensure that the integrity of the chalk writing was maintained.

Pauling with the chalkboard in 1979.

The crate was placed in a truck with special instructions and the assurance that it would be moved with the utmost caution. It was then driven from California to Oregon, brought to the 5th floor of the Valley Library, and installed in the room now dedicated to Linus Pauling.

The board itself served many functions for Pauling – namely as a type of index, as well as a mnemonic device for remembering the names of people either working at the Institute or otherwise  indirectly involved in some fashion. Besides names, the board was at times a space for demonstrations of theories for guests, and also served similarly as a mnemonic device for particular projects at the Institute. A mnemonic device is a method for enhancing memory, a service that likely gained importance as Pauling aged and the operation of the Institute became more diverse and encompassed more variables.

We’ll talk more about the functions of Pauling’s chalkboard in parts two and three of this series.