Pauling’s Guggenheim Work During His Battle With Nephritis

Pauling family portrait taken in 1941. Back of photograph is annotated, “1941. Daddy very ill.”

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

In 1941, Linus Pauling’s second year on the Committee of Selection for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he developed a serious renal disease, glomerulonephritis, that often proved fatal. The onset of this disease emerged during a period of travel that coincided with the Committee’s second meeting of the year, on March 8th and 9th. The night before the first meeting, swelling in Pauling’s face became so pronounced that he was forced to acknowledge it during his acceptance speech for the William H. Nichols Medal, granted to him by the New York Section of the American Chemical Society. In his remarks, Pauling joked

I am happy also that this occasion has brought me in touch with many old friends – with Paul Emmett and Joe Mayer and many others. Several of them said to me tonight that I appeared to be getting fat. This is not so. You know, when I was a boy in Oregon I used to go around a great deal in the green, damp Oregon woods, and I always came into contact with poison oak, which caused my face to swell and my eyes to swell shut, and me to apply so much lead acetate solution that it is a wonder that I didn’t die of lead poisoning. Yesterday I must have bumped into something similar, for my face began to swell, and I began to be afraid that I would have to speak here tonight with my eyes swollen shut – which I could have done, with the practice I have had speaking in the dark.

Well, while I was wondering what the responsible protein could have been, I decided that it was a visitation – that I was being punished for thinking wicked thoughts. The other day I said “It is too bad that something doesn’t happen to Senator Wheeler [Anti-interventionist Senator Burton Wheeler] – nothing serious, just something that would lay him up with his eyes shut for two or three weeks” and my wife said “No what you want is something that would keep his mouth shut – his eyes are closed already.”

After speaking with physicians from the Rockefeller Foundation who were able to properly diagnose him, Pauling made plans to see Thomas Addis, a renal disease specialist at Stanford. He did not, however, beg out of the Committee of Selection meetings, though he left immediately afterwards.

Once Pauling made it back to Pasadena, he was peppered with letters from Guggenheim Foundation Secretary Henry Allen Moe, who wanted Pauling’s input on applicants but, more pressingly, urged Pauling to take care of himself. Following a heavily restricted diet put forth by Dr. Addis, Pauling gradually improved and, by September, reported feeling much better.

Noting this, Moe asked Pauling if he would be interested in traveling to Buenos Aires for six months the following spring to represent the Foundation as a chemist interested in biological questions. Pauling was initially receptive to the idea, writing that it sounded “fun, and perhaps good for me,” but he eventually concluded that he was too busy with war work to seriously entertain the possibility. Though he remained on the Addis diet for quite a long time, Pauling’s most pressing issues with nephritis appeared to be largely behind him. However, five and half years later, Pauling still had to deal with the lingering effects of his poor health.

Thomas Addis, 1920s

In March 1947, Linus and Ava Helen were busy planning a trip to Oxford University, where Pauling was slated to begin a tenure as George Eastman Visiting Professor. Pauling had also been invited to receive an honorary doctorate from Cambridge that June. Knowing of these forthcoming travels, Addis suggested that Ava Helen take the lead in finding the couple a residence, one outfitted with kitchen suitable to preparing the types of foods that Pauling would need to stay as healthy as possible. The search proved difficult and was compounded by financial issues that Moe and the Foundation eventually helped to ameliorate.

Pauling’s delicate condition also led Addis to suggest that the Paulings travel across the Atlantic by boat rather than plane. But even with three months to go before their planned departure, arranging passage seemed close to impossible. As options began to run out, Pauling asked Moe if he would contact the British ambassador to the U.S., Lord Inverchapel, to see if any room might be available on a government ship. Moe was happy to do so, explaining Pauling’s situation to the diplomat and emphasizing its significance to the two nations’ scholarly relationship. Inverchapel made no promises in his reply, telling Moe that all routes were fully booked, but that he would place Pauling on a waiting list should anything arise. Pauling thanked Moe for trying, but also noted that the situation was less critical now, as Addis had given him the okay to fly and had placed him on a regimen in preparation.

Before he left for Oxford, Pauling got to thinking about Addis’ nephritis treatment and how well it had worked for him. Pauling thought it better than any other treatment then in use and wanted Addis to speak with researchers in England about it. Addis was eager to do so, but hamstrung by a lack of funding. Pauling relayed the details of Addis’ situation with Frank Aydelotte, the Chair of the Foundation’s Committee of Selection, who suggested that Addis could obtain a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his travel. Secretary Moe, on the other hand, did not think Guggenheim funds to be the best avenue of support and recommended that Addis try the Rockefeller Foundation first. If that did not work out, then Moe promised he would reconsider Addis’ case.

Richard Lippman, circa 1950s

Thomas Addis never received a Guggenheim Fellowship, but after he passed away in 1949, his colleague Richard Lippman did. Lippman had worked on renal disease with Addis for two years at the Stanford University School of Medicine in San Francisco, and had also served in the Medical Reserve Corps during the Second World War. After concluding his stint with Addis, Lippman moved south to the Institute for Medical Research at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, where he also became Pauling’s personal physician.

With much support from Pauling, Lippman applied for a 1950 Guggenheim Fellowship to go towards the cost of color plates for a book that he had written and to hire an assistant to help him review Addis’ papers. Pauling found Lippman’s proposals “very important in all their aspects” and they ultimately won generous support, including a $3,600 stipend for one year, $1,500 for working with Addis’ papers, and $1,500 towards the publication of his book. (A $500 Dictaphone was not approved.) Lippman received a renewal the following year, garnering another $3,600 to research renal functions and $1,400 to study Addis’ papers.

In 1960, Pauling himself applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his own work, noting in his application that he had “conquered” his nephritis. Moe was very happy to hear this as he still remembered how Pauling had experienced his first acute episode around the time of the 1941 Committee meeting. In the intervening years, Moe helped navigate some of the logistical consequences of Pauling’s illness and Pauling used his own experience with the disease to put forth quality candidates for Guggenheim Fellowships.

The Fellowship of Walter Pitts

Walter Pitts

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

Linus Pauling’s roles on two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation committees – the Committee of Selection and the Advisory Board – brought with them several responsibilities. Much of the work that he took on, including judging applications and recommending candidates from the outside, was fairly routine. In other instances, Pauling was asked to perform duties that went above and beyond those typically required of his committee colleagues. One such instance came about with the curious case of a 1945 Fellowship granted to a mathematical logician, Walter Pitts.

A brilliant, complex individual, Detroit native Walter Pitts was shuttling between studies at MIT and private sector work during the time of his Guggenheim award. At some point after beginning his Fellowship, Pitts broke a vertebra and ended up in a Los Angeles hospital. The neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch, who was working with Pitts to develop a logic of nerve activities, wrote to Henry Allen Moe, the Secretary of the Guggenheim Foundation, that Pitts was restless and wanting to leave the hospital against his doctors’ recommendations. As a salve, McCulloch hoped Moe could arrange for “some interesting young men” to visit Pitts and keep him occupied.

Moe, in turn, wrote to Pauling and asked that he look into the details of Pitts’s condition and the status of his finances. If it seemed necessary, the Guggenheim Foundation would agree to pay for Pitts’s transfer to the University of California Hospital in San Francisco, where he could interact with, and even be treated by, neurosurgeon Howard Nafziger.

By the time that Pauling had tracked Pitts down, he found that he was out of the hospital and in a cast. Pauling also learned that Pitts was suffering from a compression fracture, which was not causing too much trouble, and that his spinal cord was not damaged. Pitts made plans to visit Pauling at Caltech in about two weeks, a meeting that Pauling was looking forward to because of his interest in Pitts’s research connecting complex mathematical calculations to problems in physiology and medicine. Pauling also reported that Pitts was planning a trip to Mexico City, despite the need to continue wearing his cast for about six months. Moe was relieved to learn that the two planned to meet in person.

Shortly before the time of that meeting, Jerome Lettvin, Pitts’s friend and physician, called Pauling to ask if he knew of any places in the Pasadena area where he and Pitts might stay while Pitts continued his recovery. Linus and Ava Helen promptly began searching for possibilities and ultimately arranged for Pitts to stay in a guest apartment owned by Edward Crellin, a retired Pasadena steel magnate and large donor to Caltech’s chemistry division. The next day, Pitts called to say that a room at another friend’s place in Covina had opened up and they would not need the Crellin apartment after all. Though he was slightly confused by the situation, Pauling was not bothered.

Henry Allen Moe, on the other hand, was beginning to worry. He had only received one telegraph about the situation so far, and Lettvin had not responded to additional requests for information. Pitts was receiving a $2,000 stipend at $166 a month and, with no other resources, Moe did not think it would be enough to get by. At their scheduled meeting, Pauling was specifically charged with learning more about Pitts’s financial needs.

As it turned out, that meeting never took place. After Pitts failed to show, Pauling tracked him down anew and found that he was back in the hospital, this time for surgery related to a puncture wound on his knee that was not healing. Pauling initiated contact and Pitts once again made plans to see Pauling once he had been discharged. Pauling also convinced Pitts to submit a statement of the extra expenses that he had incurred because of his injuries. The two would follow up on these and other issues when they talked in person.

Once they had finally met, Pauling sent Moe his report. “Pitts is a strange fellow,” he confided, but “extremely able” in matters related to both mathematics and physiology. Notably, Pauling had pressed Pitts for his opinion of the physicist Nicolas Rashevsky, who had also looked to apply mathematics to biological phenomena. Pitts’s take agreed with Pauling’s, leading Pauling to deduce that he had “common sense” in addition to scholarly acumen. “Nevertheless, he is strange,” Pauling wrote, “one of the strange, brilliant people.”

From what he could tell, Pauling also felt Pitts to be recovering as expected, though he was still in a cast and limping from his knee operation. The hospital statement for Pitts’s surgery was likewise in hand, but Pitts had already made a $75 down payment and did not want to be reimbursed. Nonetheless, Pauling felt they should still follow Moe’s suggestion of providing medical funds so that Pitts could get his teeth fixed.

Happily, after all of his difficulties Pitts was eventually able to carry out his work as a Fellow, which resulted in a joint paper, published with Warren McCulloch, on neurological functions related to the perception of forms. Pitts was awarded another Guggenheim Fellowship a year later. He is remembered today as having been a major figure in the field of generative sciences who made significant theoretical contributions to areas of study including neuroscience, computer science and artificial intelligence.

The Guggenheim Foundation during the Second World War

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

The onset of World War II greatly reduced the quantity of applicants seeking fellowship support from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Where 1,700 people had applied for support in 1939, only 1,200 applications were submitted in 1940. At the outset, this dip didn’t concern Foundation Secretary Henry Allen Moe too terribly much since, as he wrote to Linus Pauling, there was less “sheer junk” making its way into the pool.

By 1942, a year after the United States entered the war, the number of applications had dropped to 800. By then Moe was telling Pauling that very few were “first-rate” and expressed hope that more would come in past the submission deadline.

In the midst of these dim circumstances, Moe described the Foundation as “only a candle in the dark,” and asked Pauling and other Committee of Selection members for candidate suggestions. Pauling responded by recommending Verner Schomaker, a Ph.D. student working in his Caltech laboratory.

For Pauling, Schomaker was a good fit on multiple levels, partly because he was relatively young. (As Pauling wrote to Moe, “In these days especially, I think that the young men need encouragement.”) It is worth noting as well that Pauling’s encouragement may have come across like coercion, with Schomaker later recalling that “Pauling had forced me to apply for the Guggenheim Fellowship.”

Verner Schomaker, 1953. Credit: Caltech Archives.

Regardless of the circumstances, Schomaker was close to completing his Ph.D. and sought to do work with Harvard chemist E. Bright Wilson – also a Pauling protege – on molecular spectroscopy. In his letter of reference, Pauling told Moe that Schomaker “may well be the most able man among those receiving doctorates in chemistry here in the last five years.” Blessed with “great native ability,” Shomaker was well-trained, very interested in his work, thorough, and original. That said, Pauling perceived that Schomaker’s “feeling of inferiority and self deprecation” had kept him from publishing his results to that point. Once he was awarded the Fellowship, Pauling hoped that this would change.

As the United States war effort began to take up more researchers’ time, many Fellows were obligated to defer their Guggenheim projects. Though he was not involved directly with war work, Schomaker felt a similar pressure, and six months after his $2,000 grant had been approved, he asked for a deferral so that he might finish publishing an article that he had been working on. Upon consultation, Pauling advised that he split his twelve months of Foundation support over two years, which would enable him to spend more time back east. Schomaker agreed, and made plans to study under George Kistiakowsky at Michigan in addition to his stint with Bright Wilson.

During the war, Fellows were also more inclined to back out of their projects entirely. This created a new set of problems for Secretary Moe, who was left scrambling to fill gaps after final decisions appeared to have been made. Verner Schomaker was part of this trend: a month after asking for a deferral, he attempted to resign the remainder of his tenure because he began to feel overloaded. Of particular concern was an increased teaching load that he had been asked to take on, the result of so many others being called away to the war effort.

In explaining this situation, Pauling confided to Moe that Schomaker’s “personality is rather complex” and sometimes got in the way of him completing tasks. Pauling still wanted his student to finish the Fellowship and, thus prompted, Moe decided not to accept his resignation. In the end, Schomaker ultimately used his Guggenheim funds to go to Copenhagen in 1947, where he was able to gain insight on the occurrence of phase-shift in diffraction.

As the war years moved forward and application numbers declined, Moe remained committed to not lowering the Foundation’s standards. As a result, no Fellowships in mathematics, physics or chemistry were awarded in 1943, and only a handful were granted in the biological sciences. Instead, most of the Fellowships that were extended that year went towards support of the arts and humanities.

Amidst these circumstances, Moe and the Foundation worked to reorganize their guidelines such that Fellows were allowed to carry out their war work – and contribute to “the progress, or survival, of our civilization” – by deferring the terms of their awards or by using their Guggenheim support to assist them in their government-sponsored initiatives. In 1942, the Trustees also appropriated $7,500 for additional fellowships related to emergency war work, to be distributed at any point during the year.

One recipient of this special funding was Glenn T. Trewartha of the University of Wisconsin. The Army and Navy both had requested that Trewartha revise his study, A Reconnaissance Geography of Japan, that he had first published in 1934 with the assistance of a Guggenheim Fellowship. This time around, Trewartha asked for $2,250 for five months, an amount Pauling agreed was appropriate. In the end, he was awarded $3,000 for twelve months.

Another strategy to continue awarding Fellowships without lowering selection standards was to redirect money towards researchers who might not normally have had the capacity to apply. In particular, Moe and the Trustees anticipated that many professors would have a lighter teaching load, given that a large percentage of their students had been conscripted into military service. The Foundation accordingly chose to lend assistance to several scholars of this type by providing money not allocated for more traditional Fellowships.

Though the war years required numerous adjustments, Moe kept much of his focus on an eventual return to more normal functions. In his communications with the Committee of Selection, Moe particularly emphasized the need to be ready for the reintegration of academic personnel into non-war activities. To this end, the Foundation developed a Post-Service Fellowship that offered awards of $2,500 per year to help those transitioning out of service in the armed forces or with the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Pauling, who was busy working on national defense projects himself, was especially pleased to learn that the Foundation would be emphasizing fundamental research for applicants who had completed their wartime assignments.

As hints that the war might be coming to an end began to enter the conversation, Moe expected to receive an increasing number of applications for Post-Service Fellowships. The first of these was awarded in 1943 to Lieutenant George P. Cuttino, who applied while still on active duty in North Africa. Cuttino’s funding was meant to support his study of Anglo-French relations during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The following year, a Post-Service grant in chemistry went to Melvin Calvin, recently removed from a stint with the OSRD and, in 1961, the recipient of a Nobel Prize for his work on photosynthesis. With his Fellowship, Calvin studied new organic synthesis methods at Moscow State University in the Soviet Union.

During the last of the war years, the Post-Service Fellowships did not catch on to the degree that Moe had anticipated. In 1945, Moe had scheduled an extra summer meeting of the Committee of Selection specifically for evaluation of Post-Service Fellowships, but with only sixty applications in hand, he decided to postpone the meeting until September.

After the war, applications quickly increased for mathematics and the sciences, but complications with selection continued to arise. For instance, when W. G. McMillan, Jr. applied in 1945, his most recent work had been on separating Uranium-235 for the Manhattan Project, which was top secret. As a Fellow, McMillan wished to work with Edward Teller at the University of Chicago, but because McMillan could not share his experience, Moe was uncertain how to judge his candidacy. Pauling was less concerned; McMillan’s references were solid and Teller could supply more information if necessary. The Committee of Selection agreed and granted him a Fellowship. 

The war years proved to be a difficult period for the Guggenheim Foundation, which encountered numerous obstacles to fulfilling its mission, especially with regards to science. But like many other institutions at the time, it found ways to adapt and fulfill its goals while also supporting the broader war effort.

Pauling’s Input on Some Notable Guggenheim Applicants

Linus Pauling, 1950s

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

During the years of Linus Pauling’s association with the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, many high profile individuals were awarded fellowships. The year 1951, for instance, saw Rachel Carson of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service – and future author of the environmental classic Silent Spring – awarded $3,000 for a one-year study of the ecology of Atlantic coast animals. That same year, the experimental poet e. e. cummings received $3,000 to support his creative writing. Though in many cases Pauling’s only involvement was as a voter, he occasionally spoke to or was in contact with people who had achieved or would gain wider recognition.

Garrett Hardin

In 1952 Henry Allen Moe, the Foundation’s Secretary, was looking for an assistant to help him comb through Fellowship applications. One person he had in mind was Garrett Hardin, a biologist at the Santa Barbara College of the University of California. During his tenure at Santa Barbara, Hardin had focused on improving the school’s biology curriculum. Partly as a result of this work, Hardin authored an extremely successful textbook titled Biology: Its Human Implications that was earning him some $10,000 per year in royalties.

Moe feared that the financial windfall from the biology text would put Hardin in a position to turn down any offers to leave California and devote time to tasks outside of revising and updating his book. Regardless, Moe wanted Pauling to interview Hardin and then supply his opinion on whether or not the biologist would be a good fit for the Foundation. Hardin had applied for a Fellowship that year, and Moe suggested that Pauling use this as a pretense for the interview. Moe also wanted Pauling and Ava Helen to visit as a couple with Hardin and his wife Jane to help round out a fuller and clearer impression. Pauling was advised that he could treat the trip as a vacation for which he would be reimbursed by the Foundation.

Pauling agreed to the task, noting that he did not need the Foundation to pay for his trip since he already had a funded visit to Ventura County on the calendar, to be sponsored by a high school teachers group. After meeting with the teachers, Pauling spoke with Hardin and stayed overnight, something he would have ended up doing anyway since a large storm had come in.

Having completed his trip, Pauling reported that he did not think Hardin would be a good candidate to assist Moe, nor even a good candidate for a Fellowship. According to Pauling, Hardin was “too helter-skelter in his actions, and probably also in his thinking” to work well as an assistant. And while he appeared to form good solid opinions of others, Pauling harbored doubts about Hardin’s thoroughness, a quality of high importance for Moe’s assistants.

Pauling’s main objection to Hardin’s Fellowship application was that the plan that it outlined was too weak. In his proposal, Hardin indicated a desire to “harmonize” the disagreement between R. A. Fischer and Sewall Wright’s dueling interpretations of Theodosius Dobzhansky’s work on population genetics. Wright thought that Dobzhansky’s views supported his own “shifting balance” theory, which posited that random genetic drift could overcome the stability of isolated populations created by natural selection. Fischer disagreed with this notion.

When Pauling pressed Hardin to explain how he would harmonize the opposing viewpoints, Hardin apparently lost his nerve and admitted to an incomplete understanding of Wright and Dobzhansky’s positions. Hardin further disappointed Pauling when he criticized George Gaylord Simpson’s books on evolution by saying that they had many mistakes in them, without qualifying that Simpson was a very good paleontologist and popular science writer. A week after Pauling submitted his report, Moe replied that he and Associate Secretary James F. Mathias had been admiring Pauling’s letter as a “complete, and completely perfect, communication” that told them all they needed to know and more.

While he was neither offered the assistant position nor a Fellowship, Garrett Hardin went on to become a popular, if controversial, science writer. Of particular note was his 1968 book The Tragedy of the Commons, which addressed overpopulation as moral rather than a technological problem. Many of his subsequent books amplified this position.

George Gamow

In 1952, after twelve years of service, Pauling rotated off of the Committee of Selection, but Moe continued to request his input on certain applicants, especially for those individuals working on research close to his own. In one instance, when solicited in 1956, Pauling thought there was “no doubt” that Columbia University biochemist Erwin Chargaff deserved another Guggenheim to extend his recent work with DNA.

The following year, Pauling took a contrary view in recommending against George Washington University physicist and cosmologist George Gamow, who was working on protein synthesis. Though he had spent little time studying protein structure, Gamow sought funding for a trip to England to learn more about it with Frederick Sanger and Francis Crick. Pauling did not imagine that Sanger and Crick particularly wanted Gamow to make the visit and did not expect Gamow to make a substantial contribution to the field. For Pauling, the small number of papers that Gamow had already published on the topic did not say anything especially new and were unlikely to stand up once all the open questions had been settled.

Pauling considered Gamow to be a very good popular science writer, but not a top-tier scientist in any sense. This assessment was surely colored by a personal exchange wherein Gamow sent Pauling a manuscript that he intended to publish on protein structures the put forth ideas very similar to those formulated by Pauling and Robert Corey. In going through the paper, Pauling found a flaw in Gamow’s argument that threw off his numbers. But when Pauling wrote him about it, not only did Gamow fail to respond, he later published the manuscript without taking Pauling’s criticism into account.

Timothy Leary. Credit: Philip H. Bailey

Another applicant whom Moe asked Pauling to review was psychologist Timothy Leary, who submitted a proposal in 1959. While on faculty at Harvard, Leary began working with Richard Alpert to research the psychological effects of psilocybin, a potential overlap with Pauling’s interests in the biochemical basis of mental diseases.

Moe passed the application along to Pauling telling him that others had already looked it over, at which point Pauling saw that one literary critic had called it “horrible!” and a psychologist had dismissed the ideas as “pseudo-science.” Moe and board member E. B. Wilson were not so sure and wanted Pauling’s open mind to provide an opinion. If Pauling thought it necessary, Moe told him he should meet with Leary in person.

Pauling quickly decided that a meeting would not be necessary. Though the plan was very original, Pauling did not think it had much chance of going anywhere were it funded. That said, Pauling also admitted that his ignorance of some of the subject matter had the potential to obscure any of the possibilities and so made no formal recommendation either way. Moe appreciated Pauling looking at Leary’s application and figured he was “chasing the wrong hunch.” In the end, Leary and Alpert carried out their research without support from the Guggenheim Foundation but had their project shut down by Harvard in 1963. Soon afterward, Leary became a prominent figure promoting the use of psychedelics.

Linus Pauling’s association with the Guggenheim Foundation provided him with a great many opportunities to meet and learn about a wide array of people whom he would not otherwise have known. That Henry Allen Moe turned to Pauling for his opinion on such a diverse group of people, including several who worked outside of Pauling’s areas of expertise, is indicative of the high value that Moe placed on Pauling’s judgments.

Reading for the Guggenheim Foundation

Linus Pauling, reading with Linus Jr., 1925.

[Happy 12th birthday to us! We began this venture in early March 2008 and today, nearly 800,000 words later, we’re excited to still be exploring the life and impact of Linus Pauling. We celebrate by continuing our close look at Pauling’s work for the Guggenheim Foundation.]

As a member of both the Committee of Selection and the Advisory Board for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Linus Pauling not only read the thick application digests prepared by Foundation Secretary Henry Allen Moe each year, he also read books authored by select applicants. Doing so helped Pauling to make more informed decisions when casting his vote on whether or not to award a Fellowship. Given his background as a scientist, Pauling’s reading also helped Moe and other committee members better understand the nature and import of particular applicants’ work.

Some of the books that Pauling read during his time on the Committee aligned fairly closely to his scientific interests. Among these were Von Zahlen und Figuren by Hans Rademacher and Otto Toeplitz, and Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner and James R. Newman. Pauling also delved into books on history and sociology, The Mind of the South by W. J. Cash being one of them.

Reading in Kyoto, Japan, 1955

Fiction titles likewise made their way onto the reading list, including Jesse Stuart’s Taps for Private Tussie, Dorothy Baker’s Trio, Millen Brand’s Outward Room, Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning, Lawrence Lipton’s Brother, the Laugh is Bitter, Paul Goodman’s Grand Piano and Don Juan, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Camera Obscura and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.

Sometimes Pauling was able to read these books on his train rides home from Committee meetings in New York; when he reached Pasadena, he would send the books back to Moe and share his opinions. These evaluations were just as straightforward as those that he submitted when evaluating scientific proposals. He liked, for instance, Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising, thought Wallace Stegner was “first rate,” and that Eudora Welty was a “crackerjack” offering “wonderful” stories.

His negative assessments were just as explicit. Vladimir Pozner’s First Harvest, was “lacking in penetration” and ill translated, Edward Newhouse was “good but rather flashy,” and Christina Stead was “no good” in part due to a style that was “labored and verbose.”

The fiction authors Pauling read for his first Committee of Selection meeting in 1940 were Christine Weston and Harold Sinclair. Pauling judged Sinclair to be “a first-class man” and expressed no objections to his fellowship being renewed, provided that he also be recommended by a specialist. (As it turned out, no specialist made such a recommendation and Sinclair’s support was not renewed. )

Pauling was more critical of Weston’s Be Thou the Bride, which followed two families in Maine through a tale of adultery, arson, and other dramatic events. For Pauling, the writing just wasn’t there, and in his report to Moe he suggested that

He [sic] is a careless writer, far from precise in the use of words and even capable of making gross grammatical errors. His [sic] thinking is similarly careless.

Unlike Sinclair though, the specialist assigned to Weston’s novel recommended it, and she was awarded a Fellowship that year. Weston would apply again in 1943 after having written Indigo, which was set in India around the time of the First World War. This time Pauling’s opinions were not recorded and Weston did not receive a Fellowship.

Pauling also read books that overlapped more directly with his areas of expertise. In 1942, Muriel Rukeyser had just published a biography of the nineteenth-century American physicist Willard Gibbs, and Moe was particularly interested in Pauling’s opinion of the text.

The reviews were mixed at best. While he found her “clever” and a good writer, it was clear to Pauling that Rukeyser did not understand Gibbs and had based much of her work on secondary sources. In one particularly glaring passage, Rukeyser had presented Gibbs’ phase rule as a definition when it was anything but. Moreover, when she applied the rule to specific cases, she conflated salt – as in sodium chloride – with the much broader category of salt compounds. Pauling then explained to Moe how he would write about the phase rule were he taking on Rukeyser’s project.

Interestingly enough, the criticism did not sink in. In his reply, Moe offered that it was “very sweet” of Pauling to help him understand some of the science, even though it had mostly remained impenetrable. Moe also noted that others to whom he had spoken, including Committee of Selection members E. B. Wilson and Florence R. Sabin, had liked Rukeyser’s book.

Pauling was frustrated by this response, writing Moe, “Damn it, I wasn’t trying to be sweet when I wrote to you about Miss Rukeyser’s book.” He explained again the nature of his complaints but also expressed a willingness to reassess if Moe did not think the criticisms relevant. The Committee of Selection must have thought they were not as Rukeyser was ultimately granted a Fellowship that year.

In other instances, Pauling’s opinion held serve. When anthropologist Victor von Hagen applied for a 1949 Fellowship, Pauling felt compelled to read his book, Aztec and Mayan Paper Makers, published a few years earlier.

Once done, Pauling came away less than impressed. The only argument that he found interesting was that the Aztecs and Maya had made paper from fig tree bark rather than agave, but even this struck Pauling as old news — he suspected “some German investigators” had made the discovery as early as 1910. The presence of typos – like setting the date of the first European paper mill in Mexico at 1850 rather than 1550 or 1580 – also grated. For Pauling the book did not justify a Fellowship, an assessment with which Moe and the rest of the committee agreed.

Herman and Nina Schneider, who wrote science books for children, applied for a 1952 Fellowship. In years past, they had published several titles including How Big is Big?, You Among the Stars, and Let’s Look Under the City. Pauling read them and was, once again, underwhelmed. While some of the experiments they described were clever, others were no good at all. Pauling noted that he had discussed the books with his son Peter, who pointed out that the authors’ were incorrect in describing how an ice cube in a mitten would stay colder longer than one left unwrapped. As Pauling told Moe, both of the ice cubes would remain at the same temperature, but the wrapped one would melt more slowly.

Pauling was also disappointed in the Schneiders’ illustrations. One depicting a passenger-laden ski lift placed the center of mass in the wrong location. Other images were confusing because of poor perspectives. On the contrary, Pauling found that Fritz Kahn’s Man in Structure and Function, though written for adults, showed the type of imagination needed for a children’s book. So while he did not support a fellowship for the Schneiders, he would for Kahn were he interested.

Being on the Guggenheim Foundation’s Committee of Selection gave Pauling the chance to read many books he would not have read otherwise. And like other experiences of being on the Committee, Pauling genuinely appreciated the opportunity, though his assessments did not always carry the day.

Pauling’s Interviews for the Guggenheim Foundation

Linus Pauling, 1940s

[Happy Linus Pauling Day! Today we celebrate what would have been Pauling’s 119th birthday by continuing to dive deep into his lengthy and important association with the Guggenheim Foundation.]

During Linus Pauling’s tenures on the Committee of Selection and the Advisory Board for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he was able to meet in person with many of the applicants whose proposals he was charged with reviewing. By conducting a face-to-face interview, Pauling was able to press applicants on particular points while also making suggestions on how they might edit their submissions to improve their chances. After each of these interviews, Pauling would report on what he had learned to the Foundation’s Secretary, Henry Allen Moe.

The Foundation’s guiding documents stipulated that Fellowships be made available to anyone pursuing some form of research or exploration in their chosen field, and that applicants need not be academics. In August 1945, Pauling spoke with one such applicant, Luella A. Huggins, a lawyer from Kerman, California who was interested in the application of psychology to social problems, especially crime. Huggins had unsuccessfully applied for a Fellowship in 1941 and wanted to try again.

After meeting with her, Pauling came away unimpressed. “She is an uninspired person,” he wrote to Moe, “of middle age, who has not published anything, nor completed a manuscript… I think that she could never be a satisfactory recipient of a fellowship.” And with that, Pauling assumed the matter had been settled.

Huggins apparently came away from the meeting with a different impression. During their time together, Pauling had told Huggins that she needed to have more publishing experience, and within two weeks she sent him a potential article and a sample chapter for a proposed book, informing him that publishers were already interested. Huggins explained that she did not have the time or money to write since beginning her legal career ten years earlier. Once she published her book however, she planned to give up law as she only took it up to pay off debts. For Huggins, a Guggenheim Fellowship represented a chance to start over.

To further her candidacy, Huggins asked Pauling for his advice on approaching other members of the Committee of Selection. Pauling was brief in his reply, telling Huggins that her manuscripts were interesting and that she should move forward with her application but not reach out to each Committee member. In the end, Huggins came away disappointed again when she once more did not receive a Fellowship. That said, she did eventually succeed in self-publishing her book, Behavior and Law, in 1959.

That same summer, Pauling spoke with another applicant outside of the academy, Lucyle Hook, a high school teacher in Scarsdale, New York. Hook was studying a perceived change, as Pauling reported to Moe, “from the masculine Shakespearian drama (to use her words) to the more feminine modern drama.”

Over the past several years, Hook had devoted her summers to research, first going to England and then the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. During her most recent research trip to southern California, Hook visited Pauling at Caltech and made a good first impression as “a serious and lively person, with a real interest in life.” Unlike Luella Huggins, Pauling initially thought it a good idea to give Hook some support. Moe concurred, telling Pauling that he took special pleasure in finding worthy high school teachers to fund.

Hook’s candidacy took a turn for the worse however, when she sent to Pauling her manuscript on the Restoration era actresses Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle. “I am afraid that Dr. Hook is an uninteresting writer,” Pauling reported. “[S]he is far less interesting as a writer than as a talker. Moreover, her writing seems to me to be poor. Her paragraphs are disconnected, her sentences are vague, and her words are used without sufficient attention to their meaning.”

With this new information in hand, Pauling withdrew his previously strong support for Hook, though he allowed that input from external referees and references would shape his final opinion. In the end, Hook was not awarded a Fellowship but soon became a professor of English at Barnard College and succeeded in publishing her work.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling, Oxford, 1948.

Pauling spent most of the 1947-48 academic year as a visiting professor at Oxford, but even there he continued to meet with people about Fellowships. One person with whom he spoke was North Carolina State University historian John Shirley, who wanted to renew an existing award so he could spend time more in England studying the papers of the astronomer and geographer Thomas Harriot.

One of the early settlers of Raleigh, North Carolina, Harriot authored a volume, Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, after returning to England in 1588. Shirley wished to study this book in depth, and with his Fellowship renewed, he guessed that he could complete his project within a year. (Absent additional funding, he estimated completion in six to eight years.) Pauling judged Shirley to be a hard worker with interesting material, but was disappointed that he had little knowledge of modern science, a trait that colored Pauling’s opinion of many scholars with whom he interacted. Shirley’s Fellowship was not renewed.

Not every meeting resulted in a definitive judgment. In 1952 Pauling met with George A. Zentmyer, a plant physiologist at the University of California, Riverside, and a candidate about whom Pauling struggled to form a strong opinion. On the one hand, Pauling found Zentmyer to be very likeable, but on the other he did not seem to know enough about chemistry. His abilities as a plant physiologist could potentially make up for this deficiency, but Pauling was not certain and thought it best for the committee to decide. Pauling also frowned upon Zentmyer’s proposal to go to the University of Wisconsin and the Connecticut State Experiment Station, thinking it more productive to propose travel to Europe instead.

In the end, Zentmyer made it easy on Pauling by withdrawing his application — a trip to South America got in the way of the Guggenheim plans. Pauling suggested that he reapply the next year; Zentmyer ultimately received funding in 1964.

Barse Miller

Scientists and humanists were not the only ones to benefit from Guggenheim Fellowships — many artists did as well. And when applications from scientists started to diminish during the Second World War, Moe encouraged Pauling to recommend people from other groups.

Pauling’s first recommendation of this sort was for his friend Barse Miller, a watercolorist. Miller’s son had recently died in an auto accident and, partly to salve his grief, Pauling talked him into applying for a Fellowship even though the deadline had passed. The Committee awarded Miller the Fellowship, but he could not immediately accept it as he had been called into active military duty and asked to paint Army scenes in the Pacific. Once the war was over, Miller fulfilled his Fellowship in 1946.

Oskar Fischinger

Another artist whom Pauling recommended was the experimental filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, who had briefly worked on the animation for the scene of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in the Disney film, Fantasia. Fischinger eventually quit because the studio decided to make the animation less abstract.

Pauling first saw Fischinger’s black-and-white films while in Europe and was very impressed. In 1951 Fishchinger was in Los Angeles screening his recent color films, The United States March and Motion Painting No. 1, and Pauling made a point of attending to see the new work and learn more about Fischinger’s technique. Though he preferred the black-and-white films, Pauling agreed that Fischinger’s more recent films took his earlier ideas in a whole new direction.

Fischinger’s Guggenheim idea was to produce “Space Paintings” in color and motion. Pauling was unsure how he would accomplish this, but was confident that he could figure it out and, more generally, was supportive of Fischinger’s desire to contribute to experimental film. When Pauling spoke with Fischinger, he found him to be quiet, modest, and enthusiastic. Moe appreciated Pauling’s recommendation and, as his “experimental-film expert,” took his opinion very seriously. Despite all of this groundwork however, Fischinger never formally applied for funding.

Linus Pauling’s work with the Guggenheim Foundation took him well beyond his home in chemistry but did not dissuade him from making strong judgments. Rather than relying on his knowledge of content in these cases, Pauling instead attempted to elaborate on the reasons why a candidate’s work was or was not interesting to him. And as was the case with science-related applicants, Pauling’s judgments oftentimes lined up with the Foundation’s final decisions on granting fellowships.

Yuri Ovchinnikov, 1934-1988

Yuri Ovchinnikov

Yuri Ovchinnikov, a friend of Linus Pauling’s and the youngest person to ever serve as vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, died thirty-two years ago this month at the age of 53, the victim of an undisclosed illness. A prominent biochemist, much of Ovchinnikov’s work focused on gene-engineering interferons and their potential use in the manufacture of insulin and other medical applications. Ovchinnikov’s contributions were immense and garnered a great many accolades including the Hero of Socialist Labor prize, the Lenin Prize, and the Soviet State Prize, as well as honorary doctorates from universities in Poland, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Spain, Peru, and East Germany.

Ovchinnikov was born on August 2, 1934 in Moscow. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Moscow State University in 1962, and was promptly hired as a research fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, working under a future Nobel laureate in chemistry, Vladimir Prelog. In 1966 Ovchinnikov returned to Moscow to teach at his alma mater, and in 1970 he attained the rank of full professor at Moscow State University. That same year, he became the director of the Shemyakin Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, a position that he held until his death in 1988.

Ovchinnikov’s scientific and professional achievements paralleled one another and fueled his rise to prominence in the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe alike. Part of his success could be attributed to his ability to deftly straddle the scientific ideals of a failing Lysenkoist system while incorporating these same principles into the new field of membrane biology. Perhaps more importantly, Ovchinnikov was comfortable crossing disciplinary boundaries from chemistry to biochemistry to biophysics, a trait that he shared with Linus Pauling.

Ovchinnikov is perhaps best known for his work on developing gene-engineered interferons, insulin, and other medically useful preparations, but his scientific contributions were not limited to these areas. Working in Switzerland with Vladimir Prelog, Ovchinnikov was introduced to the stereochemical structures of peptides, a line of inquiry that he continued in the years that followed.

Specifically, Ovchinnikov was interested in unraveling the structure of peptides, a task that had stood as a huge challenge for the scientific community up until that point. As he worked on the problem, Ovchinnikov developed a novel spectroscopic approach that ultimately proved successful in developing an understanding of the structures of various depsipeptides as well as certain antibiotics, such as gramicidin. Ovchinnikov’s achievements were so significant that he is now considered to be a father of what is today called dynamic conformational studies.

Ovchinnikov next turned his attentions to molecules that were even more complex, and in 1979 he published what was perhaps his most influential paper. In it, he outlined a correct model for bacteriorhodopsin, the first time that this had been done for a membrane protein. In fact, many of the structures that he found in bacteriorhodopsin, which were completely novel at the time (such as its seven transmembrane sections) are found in other molecular structures, including membrane pumps, channels, and receptors.

The biomedical implications of Ovchinnikov’s work quickly became apparent, and it did not take long before he was collaborating with scientists all over the world. As the collaborations matured, Ovchinnikov began to apply computer modelling techniques to correctly decipher other highly complicated structures, including pig kidney enzymes. This particular discovery eventually led Ovchinnikov to use recombinant DNA to investigate human enzyme functions and structures, which in turn led to the gene-engineering work for which he is so highly regarded today.

Ovchinnikov speaking at the Lomonosov Gold Medal ceremony, Moscow, 1978

In 1974 Ovchinnikov became vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and it was in this capacity that his life began to overlap with Pauling’s. One of Ovchinnikov’s tasks for 1977 was to edit a book to honor the 70th birthday of M.M. Shemyakin, a famous Soviet scientist, and Pauling was asked to submit a contribution. Pauling agreed to do so and drafted a paper titled “The Nature of the Bonds Formed by Transition Metals in Bioogranic Compounds and other Compounds.” Not long after, Pauling was awarded the Lomonosov Medal during a trip to the USSR, and it was during this visit that he met Ovchinnikov for the first time.

The two became much more closely acquainted in the summer of 1984 when Pauling spent an additional three weeks in the Soviet Union, in part to attend a conference on “Frontiers in Bioorganic Chemistry and Molecular Biology.” Ovchinnikov was Pauling’s host for that trip, and the two men spent nearly the entire time together. Their friendship cemented by this experience, Pauling returned home from his travels with a profound respect for Ovchinnikov and his scientific work.

Indeed, evidence of a strong, cordial relationship shows up in the correspondence that followed. In January 1985, Ovchinnikov wrote to Pauling to tell him that he was writing a book about bioorganic chemistry and wished to include short biographies of some of the great men in the field. Naturally, he hoped to include Pauling, and asked if a suitable photograph might be supplied. (Pauling was happy to comply.) Two years later, when Ovchinnikov and his brother published a paper on organic polymer ferromagnetism in the highly respected journal Nature, Pauling took the time to send a note of congratulations and best wishes.

When Ovchinnikov unexpectedly passed away in 1988, large segments of the scientific community came together to mourn the loss. In Pravda, a Russian language newspaper based in Moscow, sixty-five prominent Soviet figures signed a letter expressing grief at Ovchinnikov’s passing. Notably, the first signature to appear was that of Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

Pauling seemed equally shaken by the news. In a letter to Ovchinnikov’s replacement at the Shemyakin Institute, Pauling wrote, “It was one of my pleasures to have been acquainted with Yuri Ovchinnikov for a number of years and to have the benefit of conversations with him about scientific problems. His death is a great loss.” In a separate correspondence, Pauling reflected of his old friend that

If he had lived, he would, I am sure, have become an even more valuable person in developing science in the Soviet Union and improving the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. He had a fine personality and a very good mind.