The History of the Pauling Blog: Of White Whales and Other Challenges

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[Extracts from an interview by Tiah Edmunson-Morton with Chris Petersen, conducted on the occasion of the Pauling Blog’s tenth anniversary. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Part 3 of 4.]

Tiah Edmunson-Morton: How many students have worked on the blog?

Chris Petersen: Well, thirty-three people have written for the blog and I would say that probably more than twenty-five of them have been students. It’s mostly students.

So the people that have written for it have been students and me and a sort of random collection of other people. [Pauling biographer] Tom Hager contributed a couple of things he actually had written for something else, but we re-posted them. We also had a guy named John Leavitt, who was an employee of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine when it was in the Bay Area, who has taken an active interest in us for a long time. And he’s been our – I called him our East Coast Bureau Chief for a while because he’s based in Connecticut. He’s sent us quite a bit of stuff and we’ve published him.

Another hat that I wear within the department is Remote Reference Coordinator, and so sometimes somebody will contact us with a fairly in-depth inquiry about Pauling and it’s going to be published in a book or in a paper or whatever. And I’ll invite them to write something for the blog and tell them that it actually has a pretty good audience and it’s going to expose your project to a wider audience than maybe it would otherwise receive. And we’ve gotten guest posts based on that as well.

But those are few and far between, relatively speaking. It’s been mostly students, and a full gamut of students too – undergraduates, master’s-seeking, and Ph.D. students. We’ve had good luck with the [Oregon State University] Honors College; we’ve recruited a lot out of the Honors College here. We’ve had good luck with the History of Science program, we’ve had good luck with the English program. But not necessarily just those three – again, there’s a bit of word of mouth from time to time, and just good luck as well happens from time to time too.

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TEM: What is the most memorable thing that a student found or researched or asked you about?

CP: Yeah, that’s an easy answer for me. I don’t know what the year was, it’s been a few years ago, but there’s a controversy – a very weird scientific controversy – on something called quasicrystals. Quasicrystals, I would not pretend to be an expert on them, but I can say that they are exotic and they are related to structural chemstry and there’s a lot of math involved.

And so I knew that Pauling had done a lot of writing and speaking about quasicrystals in the ’80s, and he got into basically a dispute with another guy named Dan Shechtman about – I think Shechtman was pro-quasicrystals and Pauling was anti, I’m honestly not even sure at this point. But there was a dispute and Shechtman was right and, as it turned out, Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in 2011 for this work on quasicrystals. And this stands as a piece of evidence about Pauling’s stubbornness and about his inflexibility at times, which was very much a part of his personality, especially as he got older.

I wanted to do something with this, but I knew that I didn’t have the ability to do it and I didn’t figure many students would either. But we finally had somebody who came across my desk who I thought, “she might be able to pull this off.” And she did.

So she devoted a lot of time to this. She was married and her husband created animated gifs to use as illustrations because she felt like that was necessary to provide context for what she was writing. And she worked from home for a while because I think she was having some health issues, and she finally emailed it to me. And she emailed it as a full package and in the email she quoted Moby Dick. And part of the quote – I don’t know the whole thing – but “from hell’s heart I stabbeth thee” was part of what she said because she had slayed this white whale of this set of posts about quasicrystals.

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And it was terrific, it really was. She was an extraordinary talent. And that was, I think, pretty much the end of her time with us; I don’t know what happened to her since, I hope that she’s done well. But she was exceptional and that really stands out in memory as just being a terrific accomplishment; something that I couldn’t have done. I think that most of what we publish is good to pretty good to excellent, and most of it I could do if I had the time and wherewithal. But I don’t know if I could have done that. She did and it was great. So, “from hell’s heart I stabbeth thee.” [laughs]

TEM: I was sort of thinking that the answer to that would not be quasicrystals but that it would be something more controversial. So Pauling also had other controversial aspects of his life and his career and I’m curious about how you’ve dealt with that?

CP: Yeah. I think that the blog is mostly friendly to Pauling and I think that’s valid. We are not an exercise in hagiography though, and we have written things that are not necessarily flattering. I think the quasicrystals instance is one of them, in fact.

The topic du jour these days is whether or not Pauling was a eugenicist, and we’ve written on that. It’s tricky, for sure, but I think we’ve taken a pretty balanced approach to that. And the last bit that we did was actually a summary of a talk that was given here by somebody from our Resident Scholar Program. So that’s been another thing that we’ve done is writing profiles on the different people who have come here as Resident Scholars to do work on Pauling; there have been several of them. And this guy gave a nice talk that, I think, presented the nuance pretty well, and I wrote that post. I was there for his presentation, I re-watched it, I wrote up the notes, and I thought a lot about how to present this. And I think that stands as a nice statement on Pauling’s point of view related to eugenics, which I’m not going to get into here. But that is one instance.

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Another instance that I think is valid is his relationship with his children. We’ve done two sets of posts on his two sons that are no longer living – Crellin was the youngest one and was actually the first one to die, and then Peter was the second oldest of the kids who had a tough life on a lot of levels. And we took a deep dive on both of them and engaged with their life stories in a way that, I’m sure, nobody else has.

Pauling, I think, he was of a different generation of parent than I am. He was very focused on his career and he had a wife who saw it as her role – early on, at least – to care for the children and to create a scenario in which he could do his work most effectively.

And he did a lot of very effective work, but I think it also had an impact on his kids on some level. I think that he loved them, I think that he certainly provided for them well after they were out of the home – most of them. But that warmth was not always necessarily there and the time was not there for sure, and that’s a criticism. And I think that comes through in the writing on some level.

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So those are a couple bits. Another thing we’ve done is written extensively about lawsuits. And he was involved in a lot of lawsuits. The ones that we’ve engaged with are well in the past and they’re libel lawsuits – mostly papers or magazines calling him a communist, and him being very litigious about it. And, so there was a Supreme Court verdict that came through that basically shot his point of view down and that was the end of him being successful with these lawsuits, but he pursued them doggedly and a sort of persnickety side of his personality arises.

He could be a little cranky at times and he probably had a right to be as far as that was concerned, but in my reading of the documents and just in his interactions with people as a writer of letters, he was always very formal and he sometimes could be pretty terse and not especially warm. So we dug into the lawsuits in significant depth and I think that showed pieces of his personality as far as that’s concerned.

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We’ve done a lot of work on vitamin C, especially vitamin C and cancer, and to a lesser degree vitamin C and the common cold, and vitamin C and heart disease. And Pauling was obsessed with vitamin C – I think that’s a fair statement – and was not necessarily willing to hear contradictory points of view very much, or perhaps pursued lines of inquiry that were not super scientific but were favorable to his perspective or were overly favorable.

And so some of that has emerged in the writing. But I also think, there seems to be a trend now – a rising trend – of scientists who are starting to think that he was on to something, and that’s been fun to document as well. So the idea basically is that if you take vitamin C orally you are not able to absorb most of it, you excrete most of it in your urine. So there’s a threshold of absorption. And he knew that, I think, but tried to suggest different ways of taking it, kind of a steady dose over the course of an entire day that would increase the concentration in the blood. But some of the things that he said were going to happen concerning the promise of vitamin C to heal in various ways were lost because you just couldn’t absorb the ascorbic acid into your body.

But in more recent time, scientists seem to be coming to the understanding that if you take it intravenously it’s a different transport mechanism and you’re able to absorb a lot more and, in fact, some of what he thought was going to happen may actually be true. And this is of, like, last Fall – there was a seminar at the Linus Pauling Institute for their Diet and Optimum Health Conference that was devoted entirely to that. So I sent one of our students to cover it and it was great. It’s really fun for me to be able to follow that a little bit and to convey that a little bit, because he took a real beating for his point of view on that. And his tactics were not the best tactics, but it’s pretty interesting to me that, these many years later, he actually may have been right about some of that stuff.

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Peter Pauling: Epilogue

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Peter Pauling with his dad, 1931.

[Part 9 of 9]

Before he passed away in 2003, Peter Pauling saw his daughter Sarah marry, and also witnessed the births of two grandsons, Isaac and Malachi. Over time, he likewise learned to recognize the ebb and flow of his manic and depressive phases, at points struggling to overcome insomnia and drinking too much whiskey or beer, and at others walking the country paths around the mill so giddy with delight, that he felt he could not contain his joy.

In 1992, Jim Watson came to Wales to call on Peter and Alicia. Peter had recently seen a BBC drama depicting the discovery of DNA which, as he explained to his old friend, was not entirely accurate. When Watson asked what they had got wrong, Peter answered firmly that he had appeared only at the very end of the program, and that he showed up on screen driving a white Cadillac convertible. For a car man like Peter, being portrayed in such a vehicle was, apparently, an insult to his sense of personal pride.


Though thousands of miles apart, Peter remained in regular contact with his father. In 1992, Linus called on his son to ask his advice about what he should do with a collection of secret documents stemming from his years of involvement in the American war effort. As he looked through his files, Linus Pauling had been unable to track down an apparently nonexistent Navy patent for a substance, named “Linusite,” that he helped to develop in secrecy in 1945. Similarly, he noted, his invention of the oxygen meter had presumably remained classified, as was a cone shell windmill that he designed in 1952.

Indeed, Linus had a personal safe full of records relating to such top secret projects, and he had no idea which of them had been declassified. Now, at the age of 91, he wanted to unburden himself of these materials, one way or another. Wishing to help his dad out, Peter called a close friend of his from his undergraduate years at Caltech, Robert Madden, who was then working in the National Security Administration. The elder Pauling’s safe was subsequently inspected, and select material duly vanished into the hands of the federal government.


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Linus and Peter Pauling in England at a model of Bourton-on-the-water, 1948.

A year later, the conversation had turned toward the introspective. As his cancer spread and his health continued to diminish, Pauling lamented to his son that he had never much been there for him during Peter’s childhood; had never thrown the baseball around the yard. His son responded in stark contrast, stating that he looked back on his childhood at Arden Road and Fairpoint Street with great fondness, adding

Well, you did not play much baseball, but then neither did I. You did, however, lie on the side of my bed and taught me how to count in French. Later, when I was old enough to get out and about, you were often out to rescue me, either because I telephoned or Mamma was worried and sent you out to do a general search of the whole of Pasadena and surrounding environs.

In 1994, Alicia sent a letter to Linus on his birthday, saying that she and Peter were thinking of him, and about to toast him, as dinner time was drawing near. The drinking, she hastened to add, would be kept moderate, but the thinking had no limits. She concluded by writing that “Peter hopes to come over shortly – and so do I.”

Less that six months later, Linus Pauling passed away. Peter’s younger brother Crellin wrote to him after their father’s death, and he was heavy with grief. Peter, though, had been experiencing both the depths of depression and the heights of elation for decades. The lesson in all of this, he confided to Crellin, was that when one’s mania had faded, and the depression has set in, one had only to hold on. Be patient and outlast it, for eventually change will come. In this, an entire lifetime of often difficult experience was summed up by Peter Pauling in three simple words:

“Do not despair.”

The George Fischer Baker Lectureship and the Beginnings of the Manuscript

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[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 2 of 6.]

While Linus Pauling attempted throughout the 1930s to sit down and compose a book-length treatment of his ideas on chemical bonding, he was seemingly destined not to complete it. Burdened, in a sense, by his own and other’s rapid advancements in understanding, early attempts at what would become The Nature of the Chemical Bond quickly went out-of-date if they were even briefly set aside.

A window opened at the end of 1936, when Pauling began to receive offers to serve as visiting fellow at two different institutions on the East Coast. One offer came from the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and the other from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to give the chemistry department’s George Fischer Baker Lectures. Pauling quickly saw the latter option as a chance to give himself both the time and structure necessary to write his book. The Baker Lectures appeared to Pauling to provide the best circumstances to accomplish this, since every year’s lectures were followed by a publication.

Pauling promptly tried to figure out how his writing of The Nature of the Chemical Bond could fit in with the Baker Lectures. In November 1936, he asked Jacob Papish, who was arranging the fellowship, if an expanded text based on his lectures was possible and how much the book might cost. Pauling wanted the price to be set as low as possible to have a “good sale,” and based his expectations on the one-cent per page cost of previous books published in the series. Royalties were also of interest as Pauling was already planning additional editions and expansions of his yet unwritten book. Papish welcomed Pauling’s idea and suggested (very correctly, as it turned out) that his book would be one of the most successful of the series. However, all royalties for the first edition would go to the Cornell University Press, while royalties for any subsequent editions belonged to Pauling.

With everything seemingly arranged by December, Pauling only needed approval to take leave. The death in June of Caltech chemistry head Arthur A. Noyes created some hesitation in the minds of those around Pauling; as he told Papish, “the authorities of the Institute” questioned whether it was appropriate for him to take leave. The matter was quickly resolved however and Pauling began to plan for his trip the following autumn.


The Pauling family, summer 1937.

The Pauling family, summer 1937.

Initially Pauling hoped that his whole family, including Ava Helen, Linus Jr., Linda, and Peter, could join him in Ithaca, where they would all stay together in a house. But the family was growing and, in June 1937, Ava Helen gave birth to the youngest Pauling child, Crellin. Linus Pauling, most likely relaying the results of his failed attempts to convince Ava Helen that the whole family make the trip, had told Papish a month before the birth that it would most likely only be him. Ava Helen did end up joining her husband on the train and staying with him for about a month, leaving the children and their dog Tyl in the care of Lola Cook, who lived with the Paulings to assist with childcare and household chores.

Preparations related to Pauling’s work responsibilities were also necessary. Pauling told E. Bright Wilson, Jr. that he planned to stay in Pasadena “until the last possible moment” so he could help the new lab workers settle in and prepare for the coming months without him. Pauling also arranged for a graduate student to work under him while at Cornell, choosing Philip A. Shaffer, Jr. from Harvard rather than someone from Caltech. Shaffer’s assistance was sufficient to merit a mention by Pauling in the preface to The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Two research fellows, however, did accompany Pauling from Caltech: G. C. Hampson, who continued his research on crystal structures, and H. D. Springall, who continued his work on electron diffraction. Both also earned Pauling’s gratitude in the preface.

The Paulings arrived in Ithaca during the last week of September 1937. Their date of arrival gave Linus one week to settle affairs before the start of his duties, which included giving the Baker Lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays and leading a weekly Wednesday seminar. The couple selected the Telluride House, which housed students, as their residence while in Ithaca, and Pauling wound up staying there for the duration of his lectureship. It didn’t take long for Pauling to make an impact: during the third week of his visit, he gave a public lecture to an audience of 100 that drew the attention of the Cornell Daily Sun and the Ithaca Journal. The town newspaper described Pauling as building “his story around the statement that ‘Structure is the basis of all chemistry,'” a story that was subsequently detailed in the Baker Lectures and The Nature of the Chemical Bond.

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At the beginning of November, once living arrangements had been fully ironed out, Ava Helen returned to Pasadena. The separation was difficult for them both. By writing to each other several times a week, they salved their heartache and kept up to date on the everyday activities that occupied them and those around them. Ava Helen kept her husband informed on how Peter was beginning to read, how Linus Jr. was learning to pronounce “competitor,” and how Crellin was being “such a good baby” who “literally never cries.” Though Pauling missed the children, he longed for Ava Helen most of all and told her several times how lonely he was and that working was the only thing that was keeping his emotions together. On November 20, he wrote

I love you, my own dear Ava Helen, with every bit of me. Life doesn’t mean anything while you are away – I live in a sort of daze, with nothing worthwhile. The only thing I can stand to do is to work.

At least in part, it would seem then that it was out of a motivation to suppress his longing to be with his wife and children that Pauling wrote the bulk of The Nature of the Chemical Bond while he was at Cornell.

Pauling’s Cornell correspondence with Ava Helen also chronicles how hard he pushed himself to progress through his writing, to the point where he eventually wore himself out. Handwriting anywhere from ten to forty-plus pages per day of manuscript, Pauling often stayed late at the lab, sometimes until three or four in the morning. This upset his wife, who repeatedly admonished him for working himself too hard. On November 27th she wrote,

You are an awful boy to try to work all night. Your Wednesday (really Thursday) letter came today and I’m mad – hopping mad as Peter says. I told Mrs. Crellin that you worked until 4:10 a.m. (She took us all riding in her electric car this morning for an hour) She said you were shortening your life and that you owed it to your family to take care of yourself. It is wonderful that you were able to get so much done but I do worry about you.

Pauling was indeed able to get a lot done, finishing more than half of the chapters for his first book draft early in December, only a month after Ava Helen had left.

An Interview with the Author of “Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary.”

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[Part 1 of 2]

We’re dedicating the entirety of this month to celebrating the release of the new book, Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary, the first biography of Ava Helen Pauling, now available from the OSU Press.  In the coming weeks, readers can anticipate lengthy excerpts from this exciting new publication, but for today and next week we offer an exclusive interview with the book’s author, Dr. Mina Carson.  Dr. Carson is an Associate Professor of History at Oregon State University and an alum of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center’s Resident Scholar Program.  Transcribed video of her 2009 Resident Scholar presentation, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Life of Ava Helen Pauling,” is available here.

Pauling Blog: What was the genesis of this book?

Mina Carson: Really and truly the genesis was that I ran into a graduate student, Linda Richards, in Milam Hall in the upstairs hall and she said “did you know that nobody has worked on the Ava Helen Pauling papers and that the [OSU] Press may be interested in publishing a biography?” And I thought, “that’s very interesting.” And she knew that I was interested in peace studies and she knew that I was interested in women’s history and we had worked together on a course before. So I came over and looked at the papers and chatted with the Press and that was that.

PB: Had you any concept of Ava Helen before then?

MC: No and in fact I looked up Trevor [Sandgathe]’s Wikipedia article and that’s all that was out there. I had worked as a faculty member when I first came here in the early ’90s – I came in ’89 – but in the early ’90s I was appointed to what was then the Ava Helen Pauling Peace Lectureship when Linus was still with us. And for a year I was actually chair of that and so I knew about Ava Helen from that experience. But nothing, I didn’t know anything, I had no concept of her personality or activities or anything like that.

PB: Can you talk about your research process once you started in on this project?

MC: Yes, it was actually very funny. The process itself began in a very, in retrospect, humorous way because the summer that I started doing research I broke my wrist. And it was, fortunately for me, the left hand which I don’t use but I started with her general correspondence, not the very personal family stuff but the general alphabetized correspondence and I started by trying to read the letters into a dictation program. And I came up with some very funny wordings and so I quickly figured out that that was not going to work and fortunately I quickly got my typing hands back again. But I started with the general correspondence and that was not a bad idea because it really gave me a sense of the overall list of her correspondence and it also plunged me into her adult life. So I really did get a pretty quick exposure to the range of her correspondence in her 40s, 50s, and 60s and maybe even 70s actually.

Dr. Mina Carson, Spring 2013.

Dr. Mina Carson, Spring 2013.

And then I went back and read the love letters which are, of course, largely from Linus to Ava Helen. But that also was just a complete eye-opener, it was so much fun because I could picture where they had been here on the campus. And then I just dropped into various places, filling in the blanks. I did this in a very non-linear way, which is sort of my way when I research, and I finally figured out that I needed to look at the family financial stuff. And that was wonderful and filled in a lot of blanks and also gave me a sense of how the Paulings lived, because your priorities come popping right out in your financial records.

And finally I went beyond – so as I said, extremely non-linear – finally I went beyond the wonderful collection of photos that are accessible on the web and went into the physical boxes of photographs and, wow, that filled in a ton of blanks for me. What I learned from that, that I hope to keep in my mind, is that the photographs create a narrative; they’re not just a sub-narrative and in some cases they’re a parallel narrative. But they really are a narrative in and of themselves partly because they were so well cataloged and also partly because you see people, faces, and you make connections that you didn’t have before. You know where people were in particular years, for example, or what schools the kids went to. That was very helpful.

PB: And one of the interesting and somewhat unique aspects of the book is that it does intersperse a lot of photographs throughout the text rather than just having a couple sections of photos. It’s kind of dedicated all throughout.

MC: Yeah I really wanted that. When I’m reading a book, I keep the photos section for a special treat, you know, and I was tempted to do what I do myself. But then I decided that definitely was not the way to go because there are so many parts of her life that are not really accessible in the papers but that the photographs do fill in. So having the photographs available all the way along was really helpful; I thought they’d helped the reader to picture people.

Ava Helen Miller, 1922.

Ava Helen Miller, 1922.

PB: You gave a talk in 2009 where you asked the question “how does the biographer write the life of a wife? Especially one so infused with the work of her husband?” How did you go about trying to answer that question?

MC: It’s a question that honestly I’m still working on. And in fact, one of the early manuscript reviewers said that – say she – could just see me all the way through the manuscript saying “oh wait no, it’s not a biography of Linus! Oh wait no, it’s a biography of Ava Helen, I have to focus on Ava Helen!” And that reviewer actually wanted more information about Linus to get the whole tapestry in there. One of the things I tried to do – and this really is kind of my thing, it’s what fascinates me – is I tried to knit together her external interests, her public interests with her private interests. And since she never held elected office, although she was an officer of a major peace organization for a brief time, she never was a public figure in particular. It wasn’t challenging to tell her public story but it was really easier to tell her story as a private person who developed a public side as her passions for various causes became more pronounced through her life, and as she became clearer about who she was in relation to her marriage. So her public persona became more pronounced as she got older. She hadn’t started as a public person and then buried it, rather the reverse.

But the challenge was how do you tell the story of a wife? And the story was she was a wife, first and foremost, and in a sense fortunately. Although she had a very strong personality, she married a guy who really did want her to be front and center if she wanted to be. At least that’s who he was by the 1950s. That doesn’t really answer the question very well, but it was a struggle. It was a struggle to try and balance Linus’ huge personality and public presence with the real sparseness of records for Ava Helen. And fortunately her personality emerges so strongly through the records that I could at least sketch in a little bit of who she was and reconstruct her record from there.

PB: You talked a little bit about a shift in Linus’ perspective towards his wife’s public persona – maybe that’s not characterizing it quite right – but do you see evidence that there was some sort of a mutual agreement beforehand where she would keep a lower profile? That the two of them had agreed that she was going to stay in the house and raise the kids and there was a shift at some point?

MC: Linus seems to go in different directions on that. I mean there was one point in their early correspondence, their courtship correspondence, where he actually says “so are you going to study science and take a Ph.D.?” And I don’t know that he was just fooling around. He always believed – and bless his heart, because it’s not particularly true – but he always believed that she was brighter than he was. And I think in his heart he knew that he had the kind of mind that was a world changing mind. And that she had a really quick intelligence, without the kind of major suppleness of his.

And so she could have, I think, done any number of things. And later in her life she decided that she maybe should have, or at least had dismissed her possibilities too fast. And I think that’s right. I think that’s particularly correct because mothering is not the thing – I mean she made a job of it but not always a good job, it wasn’t really her thing. But I think that Linus, had she said “you know what, I need us to devote some of the family resources to my finishing college and I need to be a teacher or I need to be a lab assistant or I need to be a professor,” he would have probably said “okay then, let’s go in that direction.” That’s my guess. I think it was her set of priorities that she had, in a sense, hammered into herself and had hammered into her by the culture that a woman’s duty was to her husband and to raise beautiful, healthy children, that she kind of went in that direction. And led him to assume that she was going to do that.

Pauling family portrait, 1926.

Pauling family portrait, 1926.

And also I think it’s clear that she made it her job to push his career and that fit the culture for women at the time. I mean, to be ambitious for your husband was a fit with American culture at that time. So she kind of settled for that but, you know, you just watch her with these toddlers, you watch her with Linus Jr. in the early years, and she just doesn’t know what to do with this kid. And then you watch her with toddlers and she is overwhelmed at one point by three toddlers basically, three little kids, and it’s like, that’s not her thing. It’s just not her thing. She does it with energy and resolutely but it’s not her thing.

PB: Yeah. And then when Crellin came around it was really not her thing.

MC: No, exactly. And that really was unexpected and not particularly welcomed by her.

PB: Well this leads into the next question. The book is in part a family biography and that’s one of its strengths; could you talk a little bit about the family dynamics?

MC: Oh wow, yeah. I think, like most biographers, I didn’t look for the places where I connected with my own experiences but you feel them as they come along. And one of the places is – and a minister at the Unitarian church here in town helped me understand this in the context of the Pauling history, which was that they joined the Unitarian Fellowship in Los Angeles in the early ’60s but they connected up with that church in the ’50s. And they really, interestingly, represented a very strong cultural strand of humanism in the middle of the 20th century.

And part of that was an emotional style and a family style. It was rationalist: the kids will emerge as good citizens if we just give them good educations and launch them out on their own. And so a lot of the lack of warm fuzziness in that family jibed with the kind of ideology that they had absorbed or were comfortable with in terms of raising children. So the kids are really left very much on their own. The parents worry about them, they’re proud of them, they have concerns – are they really going to use their capabilities to the fullest extent? They worried about Linus because at one point Linus Jr. had – what was it, it was hilarious – I think it was an accordion for heaven’s sake and he wouldn’t practice. Well who of us had not had a kid who wouldn’t practice the accordion? I mean who would? But this was a serious concern for them.

The Pauling family, 1946.

The Pauling family, 1946.

And so Linus Jr. – and he’s told us this time and time again – Linus Jr. grew up with the assumption that he had to be a scientist. That was what he was expected to be, and of course it wasn’t his thing. He remembers actually reading psychology very early on and finding it fascinating but he was also interested in history and social science, he was a literature guy and none of that was really rewarded in this family. Plus his education was interrupted by World War II and all the confusion around that, so he never was allowed to, in a sense, put down roots in one place. And I think the longest he probably spent anywhere after Polytechnic in the early years in Pasadena was Harvard Medical School. So Linus Jr., the oldest child, had to emerge as his own person pretty late in life, and with a lot of kind of discouragement, both subtle and overt, from his parents. A lot of worry over who he was and who he was going to be.

And actually, I have to admit, this was very much my parents’ approach to life too and it’s a cautionary tale for me as the parent of teenagers. I watch Linus and Ava Helen raising Linus Jr. and the other kids and think “oh boy, I’ve got to start doing things differently at home.” Because all three of the boys came out with really kind of low self-esteem shall we say, wondering how they could ever fulfill the Pauling expectations. And part of it was Linus and part of it was Ava Helen, a big part was Ava Helen. And when her kids did not perform to specs she was tough, she was scornful, she had expectations. A lot of parents think that’s what we’re supposed to do as parents but having become very familiar with that family I have my doubts.

PB: Well there is a sense that Ava Helen may have come from a somewhat difficult background herself. It’s not as well documented.

MC: It’s not well documented at all. She was eight or nine when her father left the household so she was very young. Her sisters reported quite late in life that she was the favorite of the father who vanished but she never tracked him down. She met him, I think, maybe once more when she was a young woman and had just married Linus but there is no track record of her trying to reconnect with him, even though she apparently ends up with his politics, which is interesting.

Nora Gard Miller in front of the house that she maintained for her children on S. 15th Street, Corvallis, 1924.

Nora Gard Miller in front of the house that she maintained for her children on S. 15th Street, Corvallis, 1924.

I think her mom was a huge influence on her but I also think her mom was a heck of a lot more easy going in many ways than Ava Helen. But what her mom apparently instilled in her dozen children was a respect for education. I don’t know where that family got its resources but most of the kids went through OAC. Granted, Oregon Agricultural College was, relatively speaking, a lot cheaper than Oregon State University is today. But still, her mom came to Corvallis and rented a house here, while four or five of her kids went through school including Ava Helen. And she discouraged Ava Helen from an early marriage, wanting her to finish her undergraduate career.

The family history on her side is really sketchy. I think her sisters, particularly after she married Linus, kind of wanted her to stay in touch; there were polite sisterly relations among them. But Ava Helen also, I think, was a bit snobbish about the rest of her family and that was a point of difficulty. That really was.

ahp-bio

Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary is available for purchase from the Oregon State University Press.

The Legacy of the Crellin Laboratory

Linus Pauling in his office, Crellin Labs, 1955.

Linus Pauling in his office, Crellin Labs, 1955.

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

By the late 1940s, the Gates and Crellin Chemistry Laboratories had emerged as a major center of research globally; all of this accomplished despite the fact that the Crellin labs only opened in 1938.  With the conclusion of World War II, the labs were able to transfer their research back to their original pre-war queue. In the case of the Crellin Lab, this meant a resumption of work on projects deemed important to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Science of Man agenda.

In January 1947, after the conclusion of the very productive war years and almost a decade after a massive explosion and ensuing fire which caused about $14,000 in damages, the Gates and Crellin Laboratories were inspected for safety. The review showed a marked improvement in conditions since the inspection that followed the August 10, 1939 fire. Indeed, the building had seen scarcely any lab injuries since 1946.

Nonetheless, safety inspectors remained concerned, mostly because the facility was lacking in chemical showers – first response equipment crucial in the event of human contact with acid. The inspectors likewise found that too many laboratory doors were kept locked, that the workshop lacked adequate guards on its machines, and that the library’s ladders were too flimsy. On the plus side, the housekeeping was rated as “excellent.”

The Crellin Laboratory, ca. 1938.

The Crellin Laboratory, ca. 1938.

Within a few months of the inspection, a Barnstead purification system was installed on Crellin’s third floor to provide the chemistry labs with distilled water. The project wasn’t cheap – it was initially bid at just over $1,300 and Linus Pauling was infuriated when the contractor abruptly, and without explanation, increased this bill to $1,900. Regardless, the new addition was important, and helped the lab’s chemists to continue to improve upon their research.

In 1948 Pauling and his family moved to England for a two-term stay at Oxford University. Once everyone had settled in, Pauling took the time to write a friendly letter to Edward W. Crellin, the benefactor after whom the Crellin Laboratory is named.  “Now that spring has come here,” he wrote, “and the weather is more like that in Pasadena, I myself find that I think about you more and more often, and wish that I could just come up the street in order to have a talk with you.”

Alas, this opportunity would never present itself as, in mid-May, Pauling received a telegram from back home informing him that E.W. Crellin had died. Shortly afterward, Pauling received another note saying that E.W. Crellin had left $5,000 in his will for Crellin Pauling, at eleven the youngest Pauling child.

ew-crellin-obit

By the 1960s, Caltech had fulfilled a prediction made by Max Delbrück in 1947:  it had become to biology what Manchester was to physics in the 1910s. A major reason for this was the capacity for work provided for by the Gates and Crellin Laboratories of Chemistry. Their labs in organic chemistry and physical chemistry were used to help solve biological matters and had proven invaluable to science, especially to the Science of Man agenda.

In the roughly twenty years that Linus Pauling ran the labs, he increased the size of the departments using the space and boldly directed their activities as he saw fit. As with most periods of change, this era of progress was not without its discontents: some people felt that Pauling enjoyed being in the spotlight a little too much, and that this hindered collaboration. But few would even attempt to deny his effectiveness. That his tenure in Pasadena coincided with the flourishing of Caltech’s reputation is not a coincidence.

The Gates and Crellin Laboratories of Chemistry continue to stand as a globally renowned research center to this day. On the same token, Gates and Crellin also comprise the oldest facility still in use on the Caltech campus. The Gates portion of the structure was damaged in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, but was rebuilt and revamped, and now remains a major component of Caltech’s research infrastructure. The Crellin wing currently houses laboratories in organic and bio-organic chemical synthesis, in addition to key departmental apparatus, specifically the nuclear magnetic resonance, electron paramagnetic resonance, and mass spectrometry facilities. While physical chemistry labs remain important in the space, now under the direction of Dennis Dougherty, organic chemistry research has taken on preeminence in the Crellin lab generally.

Jonas Peters, the Executive Officer of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech, (who was kind enough to answer our questions as we researched this piece) says that the future of the lab is dynamic and hard to determine, with projects and plans changing depending on the interests of its staff. Recently of note, a new biochemistry project was initiated in the Crellin Lab by Douglass Rees, one “dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of nitrogen fixation by the enzyme nitrogenase.”

Though the specifics are uncertain, it is apparent that the Crellin laboratory, now seventy-five years old, is thriving and will continue to provide useful and exciting research for many years to come.

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.”

Remembering Crellin Pauling: The Later Years

The Pauling family at Deer Flat Ranch. Crellin stands far right. 1973.

[Part 2 of 2]

In April 1966, Crellin Pauling accepted an appointment to join the faculty of the University of California, Riverside. He did so, however, with mixed emotions, explaining to his brother Peter

I will be gratified to be on my own, so to speak, and I feel that the Riverside campus of UC is quite a stimulating place, and will develop very nicely. On the other hand, I don’t have a hell of a lot of confidence, and find myself somewhat frightened by the prospect of being responsible for classes and so on. Well, we shall see.

Crellin was sad to leave the Seattle area in favor of a region beset with smog, but he remained optimistic about the opportunity.

Two years later, in 1968, Linus Pauling made a trip to the Riverside campus to give a lecture as part of the university’s Centennial Celebration. Crellin introduced his father, an act which he felt did not help in his pursuit to establish his own identity at the university. However, he told Peter that he was becoming closer with his parents during this time and, in general, things were looking up.

I now, for the first time in my career, feel that I am working on something that is my own, and feel really in the forefront of research in my field. I have a paper in press, in the PNAS, the work for which has all been done in the past three months. In addition, experiments that we have underway are very promising, and will be very exciting, if they hold up. So maybe I can make it after all! I find that a degree of satisfaction with my work does wonders for my self-esteem. In turn, this new self-confidence does wonders for my general outlook on life, and for my relationship with people generally.

When Crellin’s eldest daughter Cheryl was in sixth grade, Crellin and Lucy told her that they were going to get divorced, which became final near the end of 1968. Not long after, Crellin met Kay Cole, a student in one of his microbiology classes at UC-Riverside. Kay loved his class and the way he taught and they quickly began to spend more time with one another. The couple married a few years later at the courthouse in Rubidoux, California, in the presence of Kay’s three children, a simple ceremony immediately followed by dinner some friends. Hoping to eventually gain custody of Crellin’s children, they began their life together in Southern California.

Kay and Crellin Pauling, 1987.

Kay and Crellin were fairly low key and they often spent their free time traveling – France was a favorite destination – going to the movies and shopping at farmers markets. Kay embraced Crellin’s children, although it was hard at first for the whole blended family to get along, especially when they were all living together in a three bedroom house. On July 22, 1973 the home became a bit more crowded when Kay gave birth to a son, David Crellin Pauling, described by his father as, “a charming and welcome addition to our household.”

In 1982 the family moved to Portola Valley, California, where Kay worked at Foothill College as a teacher of microbiology, cell biology and molecular biology, a post that she held for 18 years. Crellin also had a new job as Associate Professor at San Francisco State University, where he later became chairman of the Biology Department. A year prior to this big move, Crellin and the family had spent a sabbatical year in Corvallis at Oregon State University, studying halophytic bacteria. Crellin noted that their time in Oregon went by very quickly, but that he and Kay were able to work hard and be “fruitful professionally.”

San Francisco brought with it many new opportunities for Crellin, including his collaboration with Lane Khan, with whom he wrote a grant to the National Science Foundation in support of high school molecular biology instruction. Their main focus was to teach kids at an earlier age about recombinant DNA, restriction enzymes, cutting DNA and running gels. As a means of achieving this, Crellin and Khan launched a program where scientific equipment would travel among schools, allowing students to conduct experiments for a couple weeks, before the equipment kits traveled to the next high school participating in the program.

Crellin and Linus Pauling with Lynne Martinez and Ahmed Zewail, 1991.

In the early 1990s, Crellin began working with Steve Dahms, a chemistry professor at San Diego State University. The duo started another program together called CSUPERB – the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology.  The program brought together a group representing all of the campuses in the California state system and sought to mobilize and support collaborative student and faculty research. To this day, the organization continues to sponsor research and an annual meeting where students talk about their work and where CSUPERB awards various prizes. It is at this meeting that the Crellin Pauling Award for Outstanding Teaching is given to a graduate student in honor of Crellin’s passion for teaching.

When Linus Pauling died in 1994, Crellin was by his father’s side. He and Kay also planned the memorial service and the music. Following his father’s death, Crellin was placed in the difficult position of having to serve as executor of the Pauling estate. Serving in this capacity proved to be a lot of work, but was also on opportunity for Crellin to grow closer to his oldest brother, Linus Jr., who had spent most of his adult life in Honolulu. Nonetheless, as proceedings moved forward, conflicting opinions arose among his siblings concerning certain aspects of settling the estate, resulting in numerous tensions.

Pauling family reunion, 1994.

Amidst it all, in December 1996, Crellin was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of colon cancer – a shocking turn of events in part because he had undergone a colonoscopy less than a year previous and received a clean bill of health. He had surgery to help forestall the advance of the disease but decided against chemotherapy once it became clear that the cancer had already spread to his liver. Others recall that Crellin didn’t see much point in making himself miserable with chemo when it was only going to prolong his life and wasn’t going to change the outcome of his disease. Instead, he preferred to live out his days with a greater quality of life.

Crellin’s diagnosis resulted in a rapid decline, leading up to his death on July 27, 1997, at his Portola Valley home.  Only sixty years old, the youngest of the four Pauling children was the first to pass away. Reflecting on the death of her husband, and onetime teacher, some fifteen years later, Kay Pauling noted, “I’m a very fortunate person to have been able to know and love Crellin and to know and love his Dad, and I can’t imagine how my life would have been if I hadn’t taken that class.”