Pauling at Stanford: Prelude

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[This is the first installation of a seven-part series examining Linus Pauling’s years at, and associations with, Stanford University.]

Long before arriving at Stanford University as a professor, Linus Pauling had built a working relationship with the Stanford Research Institute through its branch office in Los Angeles. In February 1950, Pauling agreed to join the branch’s advisory panel on atmospheric pollution. Pauling’s role on the panel, according to J. E. Hobson, the director of the Stanford Research Institute, was to give “scientific and technical assistance in connection with our air pollution activities and, particularly, assistance regarding the solution of the Los Angeles smog problem.” The panel was to meet monthly at the University Club in Los Angeles over a period of six to eight months. Pauling would be paid a $100 consulting fee for each meeting.

The panel’s gatherings typically centered around a specific topic like ozone, the chemistry of hydrocarbons, or the future of research. One other meeting consisted of a tour of the laboratory at the Pasadena Field Office. After making this visit in July 1950, Pauling offered suggestions for improving the air cleaning technologies that were under development there. Specifically, Pauling suggested to A. M. Zarem, director of the Los Angeles Laboratory of the Stanford Research Institute, that “an effort be made to fractionate the oxidant in smog by the use of a variant of chromatographic adsorption.”

Unable to recall the names of those who had previously done similar research, Pauling provided his own suggestions on the best way to clean smog-filled air. Pauling’s method first advised that water vapor be removed from a tube containing activated alumina and liquid air. Having done so, Pauling then suggested increasing the temperature of the system such that a small amount of smog-free air or nitrogen could be passed through the tube, in the process collecting the pollutants. Zarem liked Pauling’s idea and wanted to develop and test it.


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Stanford President J. E. Wallace Sterling. Photo credit: Leo Holub.

A decade later, in early 1961, the smog in the Los Angeles area had gotten so bad that it led Pauling to consider moving away, possibly to Stanford University. In addition to its pristine reputation as a world-class university, Stanford was also attractive due to its relative proximity to Pauling’s ranch at Big Sur. The end of his academic career was also on Pauling’s mind, as he would be reaching Caltech’s mandatory retirement age in eight years. At Stanford, on the other hand, he would have an extra two years available to him.

As his thinking progressed, Pauling decided that he would most like to join Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station as their Professor of Molecular Biology, ideally working under a five-year appointment. Lawrence Blinks, who worked at Hopkins, offered Pauling an office in the station’s library and a possible laboratory space on Canary Row.

Before he went up to visit Blinks and Stanford President J. E. Wallace Sterling, Pauling sent a letter assuring Sterling that he would not impose any financial burden on the university since he was able to secure much of his own funding. Pauling’s recent grants had been used to support an eclectic program of work, including his development of a molecular theory of general anesthesia and new inquiries into the potential chemical basis of mental illness. During his visit however, Pauling discovered that a laboratory space would not be available at all and that he would not have access to office space during the summer.

After the visit had been completed, President Sterling followed up, writing that the ideal arrangement that Pauling had put forth was impracticable and would not work. Undaunted, Pauling replied that, even if he did not have access to laboratory space, he would still view working at Stanford as a step in the right direction. In his letter to Sterling, Pauling made his case:

I have thought about the nature of my contributions to science, and have recognized that the important ones are the result of my theoretical work rather than of my experimental work, although the theoretical ideas have sometimes been verified in a valuable way by the experimental work… Moreover, I have got rather tired of supervising experimental work, and have decided that I want to devote my time instead to theoretical work. In particular, I do not want to administer a laboratory.

Despite this concession on laboratory space, the ability to financially support himself, and his evident usefulness to Hopkins as the study of biology shifted more and more towards a molecular focus, Pauling’s request for a five-year professorship was still too much for Sterling to accept. Thus rejected, Pauling would have to wait almost another decade before his desire to be at Stanford was fulfilled.


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Letter from Harden McConnell to Pauling, January 24, 1969.

At the end of 1968, now five years removed from Caltech, Pauling made contact with Harden McConnell, a professor in Stanford’s chemistry department, and renewed the conversation about his potential move to Palo Alto. McConnell replied that “everyone is enthusiastic” about the possibility that Pauling might join the department.

Despite this, Pauling soon found that he was facing hurdles similar to those he had encountered in 1961. Once again, Pauling went out of his way to emphasize that he would not impose any financial burden on the university and could pay much of his own salary through grants that he had won. At the end of January 1969, McConnell wrote to Pauling with an update, “I have now put the Administration here in a position where they must make a decision soon on your appointment.” Annotating the letter in red ink, McConnell added: “The decision had better be the right one.” Within a few weeks, a verdict was rendered and Pauling was in.


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Linus Pauling, 1969. Photo credit: Ralph Shafer.

Even after he had been accepted, Pauling was made to understand that his future at Stanford was not fully assured and that he would have to follow through on his claims of self-support. For his part, McConnell could only promise that the chemistry department would cover half of Pauling’s salary for the first year. Beyond that, there was no certainty about what future years might look like. In relaying these details, McConnell lamented that, “The Chemistry Department is unanimously in favor of your coming here, and we are all greatly disappointed that the material aspects of the arrangements are so meager.” All the same, by March Pauling had been approved for a one-year appointment that would begin in July 1969.

Unlike his previous attempt to come aboard at Stanford, Pauling was this time given his own laboratory. Located in the Chemical Engineering building, the space was offered for up to three years, were Pauling to stick around that long. Jumping at this opportunity, Pauling began organizing the move of his laboratory infrastructure from San Diego to Stanford, enlisting his former student, Art Robinson – now a professor at UC-San Diego – to head up the operation. In addition to Robinson, post-doc Ian Keaveny and lab technician Sue Oxley also followed Pauling up from southern California. James McKerrow, who had sought out Pauling while he was at UCSD, likewise joined the laboratory as a research assistant.

Shortly after Pauling had completed the move to Palo Alto, he began making himself a part of the Stanford community by donating many of his scientific journals to the university. The community also reached out to Pauling, beginning with faculty in the sciences who began inviting him to participate in various department-sponsored functions. Physics professor Alexander L. Fetter, for one, asked Pauling to join a panel at an upcoming Conference on the Science of Superconductivity. So too did chemist Carl Djerassi enlist Pauling’s participation in a symposium sponsored by the department’s Industrial Affiliates Program.

Ultimately Pauling was forced to turn both of these opportunities down because he was already committed to participating in a Nobel conference and a talk at the Symposium on Sulfide Minerals in New Jersey. As we will see, many other opportunities to participate in all manner of faculty functions arose over the coming years at Stanford.

 

Appeals for Peace in Croatia

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The New York Times appeal of January 14, 1992.

[Pauling and Yugoslavia, Part 2 of 2]

Three years after Linus Pauling’s 1988 visit to Yugoslavia, tensions in the country boiled over. Though it may have been justified in its desire to protect ethnic Serbs based on the atrocities that occurred during World War II, the incursion of the Yugoslav People’s Army into newly independent Croatia did little but add fuel to the conflagration.

By the time a cease-fire agreement was brokered in 1992, several of Croatia’s major cities had been bombed and Dubrovnik, a city of major cultural importance, had been the target of several attacks. Even the institute where Linus Pauling delivered his 1957 lecture, “The Structure of Water,” came under threat of bombing in late 1991, as Serbian nationalists accused the institute of producing nuclear weapons.

As the conflict broadened, Pauling began collecting media reports and analyses. One article, published in The European and titled “Lies Within the Balkan War of Words,” claimed that Croatia was exaggerating minor conflicts with Serbs in the area while using the media to portray themselves as victims in the eyes of the world. Raymond Kent, an emeritus professor of history at U.C. Berkeley, had brought this article to Pauling’s attention while cautioning Pauling that he might be the target of Croatian propaganda efforts due to his recent travels and the awards that he had received while in Croatia.

Pauling’s response to this perceived threat was to lend his signature to the “Appeal for Peace in Croatia,” a document sponsored by a group called Truth in Croatia and published in the New York Times on October 11, 1991. Citing the deaths of over 2,000 people, with 100,000 more made refugees, the document appealed “to men and women of conscience to speak up against indifference to the plight of Croatian people, who are facing…the threat of their own extinction.”


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Fax received by Pauling on November 18, 1991.

The October 11th appeal inspired both respect and reproach from those harboring an interest in the widening crisis in the Balkans. The Croatia-friendly nature of the document drew both skepticism and outright condemnation from a variety of critics. Probably the appeal’s highest profile signatory, Pauling received several letters from colleagues as well as members of the community who felt compelled to express their shock and anger. Many accused him of outright ignorance, often citing World War II and the atrocities committed by Croatians against Serbians during that time period.

Displaying the persistence that characterized his earlier peace activism, Pauling was neither intimidated nor did he show any signs that he was ready to back down. In a note to himself, Pauling described one encounter in particular with his old friend and colleague, Harden McConnell, and his wife Sophia.

Sophia gave me a good calling down for coming down on the side of the Croatians rather than the Serbians. Her main argument was that a century ago the Croatians were killing off Serbians. I said ‘well, why don’t we try moving into a new world instead of just going to war bombarding Dubrovnik?’

Harden McConnell, a former colleague of Pauling’s at Caltech and later a professor of chemistry at Stanford, frequently swapped papers with Pauling and had also stood by his side in protesting the Vietnam war. Likewise, Sophia McConnell had been close friends with Ava Helen prior to her death in 1981. That the McConnells disagreed with Pauling on the issue of Croatia did not seem to affect their friendship in the slightest. Notably, Pauling continued to nominate McConnell for multiple awards including, in 1993, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Where the appeal was concerned, however, Pauling strongly felt that he was aligning himself on the side of peace, and he was not afraid to voice his opinion on the matter. Calls to see the other side and accusations that he was portraying a multidimensional issue from only one perspective inspired little in the way of a reaction. While this tenacity of vision was typical of Pauling, his comment to Sophia reflected a hope that Pauling had always maintained for the future.

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A note to Pauling written on an LPISM fundraising letter and sent to Pauling by a donor.

Perhaps nourished by his focus on discovery in his scientific endeavors, Pauling approached his peace work with the attitude that the only way humanity might make up for past mistakes is by creating a future in which these mistakes are not possible. Though he received a fair amount of criticism for the one-sided nature of the Croatia appeals, the spirit motivating Pauling’s involvement had little to do with choosing sides. Rather, he was much more interested in emphasizing the need for a better way to resolve world conflict, and he knew that this process began with awareness.


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Greeting card sent to Pauling by photographer Milena Sorée, November 1991. The affixed photograph was taken by Sorée in Croatia.

As time moved forward and more information about the Croat-Serb conflict became available, Pauling began to receive less criticism and more gratitude. Several U.S.-based correspondents, as well as multiple Croatians trapped in war-torn parts of Yugoslavia, sent Pauling their thanks. Some of these were form letters, simply addressed “Dear Sir” or “Dear Colleague” with Pauling’s name filled in. Many more, however, were personalized cards or handwritten letters recognizing Pauling’s contribution toward a peaceful resolution of the fighting in Yugoslavia. In certain cases, even people who didn’t agree with Pauling’s stance recognized his good intentions and commended his willingness to raise his voice in the name of peace.

Over time, new updates on the destruction in Yugoslavia came pouring in, as did requests that he “raise his voice again.” To this, Pauling responded by signing an even larger appeal, published in the New York Times and containing the names of over one hundred Nobel Laureates appealing for peace in Yugoslavia. Interestingly, only six laureates who signed had received their Nobel Prize for peace. Instead, the largest number of signatories had earned Nobel Prizes for their work in the sciences: thirty-four in physics, twenty-seven in chemistry, and another twenty-seven in medicine.

This second appeal, published on January 14, 1992, appeared on a full page of the New York Times shortly before a cease-fire between Serbia and Croatia was declared, the fifteenth in a succession of many unsuccessful attempts to stop the fighting long enough to negotiate a formal agreement between the two countries. In fact, the conflict within Yugoslavia did not see any form of resolution until the year after Pauling died.

A few months after the Nobel Laureate appeal was published, Pauling’s main contact in Croatia during his 1988 trip, Z.B. Maksić, issued a statement on behalf of the Croatian Pugwash group that capitalized on Pauling’s efforts to raise awareness. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Maksić asserted that “communism is still alive and well in Belgrade,” a suggestion that struck a nerve in the western world and solidified many western opinions on the subject.

In September 1992, the United Nations announced that it was expelling Yugoslavia until Belgrade recognized Croatia and Bosnia as independent nations, a statement that outraged Serbians. The conflict eventually came to a close with the Dayton Accords of 1995, at which the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia agreed on a generalized framework for peace in their troubled region.