The Roebling Medal

The Washington A. Roebling Medal, presented to Linus Pauling in 1967

“I remember that when my wife and I visited Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene a number of years ago, I suggested to him that his principle of reverence for life ought to be extended to include minerals, and perhaps could be named the principle of reverence for the world.”

-Linus Pauling, 1967

In November 1967, Linus Pauling traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. The society was composed of six sections including the Mineralogical Society of America, which had invited Pauling to receive its most prestigious award: the Washington A. Roebling Medal.

Born in 1837, Washington Roebling was a civil engineer who worked primarily on suspension bridges and who, most famously, oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. His father John A. Roebling, also a renowned civil engineer, had initially designed the Brooklyn Bridge but died of tetanus before construction began. It was at that point that Washington Roebling assumed leadership of the project as well as the family business, John A. Roebling’s Sons Company. He continued in this capacity until his passing in 1926.

Washington Roebling. Credit: Rutgers University Library, Special Collections and Archives

In addition to his achievements as an engineer, Roebling was also an avid mineral collector who scouted out and saved more than 16,000 specimens during his lifetime. After his death the collection was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, at which point it was noted that, of the 1,500 mineral species then known, only fifteen were not represented in Roebling’s assemblage. As a natural outgrowth of his hobby, Roebling was also an active member of the Mineralogical Society of America, assuming the position of vice president late in life.

In 1937 the Mineralogical Society of America created the Roebling Medal to honor the memory of one their highest profile members. The award was meant to be the most prestigious decoration offered by the society, as granted to an individual who had made “scientific publications of outstanding original research in mineralogy.” Nominations could be put forth for any qualified individual, whether or not they were strictly a mineralogist. For several years prior to issuing the award for the first time, the society earmarked a small percentage of their members’ annual dues to fund the medal, which was cast from 14 karat gold and bore an image of its namesake.


At the 1967 ceremony in New Orleans, Pauling was introduced by Jose D. H. Donnay, a mineralogy professor at Johns Hopkins University. A charming speaker, Donnay reflected on Pauling’s humble origins, his academic and professional accolades, his extensive and varied research interests, and the achievements that had resulted in this honor. As Donnay noted in his enthusiastic remarks

Let me, at least, remind you of the fields of endeavor in which [Pauling] himself admits taking an interest: crystal structures, molecular structures, line spectra, quantum chemistry, molecular rotation in crystals, ionic radii, theory of stability of complex crystals, proteins and helices, in short the vast subject of the chemical bond; turning toward biology and medicine: the relation between disease and molecular abnormality, immunochemistry, sickle-cell anemia; in other fields, structural problems of metals and alloys, ferromagnetism. Some people have asked me, ‘Why give Pauling one more medal? Will not our modest homage look like an anti-climax?’ [To which I would answer]…there is not a single mineralogical medal in his present-day medalary…our own profession, which owes him so much, cannot tarry, cannot be ungrateful any longer: it is high time we jumped on the band wagon!

Donnay drafted his speech months before the Louisiana meeting and had asked Pauling to proofread it. The only edits that he suggested be made were mention of his newly published book, The Chemical Bond, as well as his receipt of an overseas addition to the medalary: the Correspondant por a Mineralogie award, granted by the French Academy of Science in 1948.


In his acceptance address, Pauling reflected several personal and professional outcomes of his life-long love affair with mineralogy. He recalled in particular that his interest in the study of rocks and minerals had reached an early crescendo some fifty years earlier when, as a young college student, he initiated a systematic, year-long effort to collect specimens native to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Unfortunately for him, Pauling was not well-equipped to pursue this task as he was limited by his only mode of transportation: a bicycle.

While this initial quest proved unsuccessful, Pauling’s enthusiasm did not wane but rather took on a more academic form, including mining geology courses at Oregon Agricultural College, complete with lab work on blowpipe analysis and fire assay.        

Linus Pauling, 1947

Pauling next noted that it was a Caltech scientist, C. Lalor Burdick, who was the first to correctly determine the molecular structure of a mineral, chalcopyrite. Completed while Pauling himself was still in his first year at OAC, this discovery and others like it inspired Pauling to begin his own research on the structure of molybdenite once he had arrived at Caltech to begin graduate studies. Co-published with his mentor, Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson, the molybdenite project was just the beginning of a remarkable phase of productivity and insight. Within the next thirteen years, Pauling investigated sixty-three other minerals using x-ray diffraction techniques, publishing structures for over half of them.

Later on, Pauling encouraged a student to dig back into the past and review Burdick’s original work, an examination that yielded fruit. As he noted in his talk,

I suggested to one of my graduate students, L. O. Brockway, that he carry out a reinvestigation of chalcopyrite in order to determine the parameter with greater accuracy. He found Burdick had made an error, and had reported a wrong distribution of copper and iron atoms over the zinc positions in sphelerite. The correct structure was reported by Brockway and me in 1933.

Pauling likewise made mention of a collection of specimens that Robert Oppenheimer gave to him after a meeting in 1927. Though offered mostly as a gesture of friendship, the collection also proved useful to Pauling’s research, and he continued to study the specimens until the late 1930s, when his interest shifted towards the interactions between hemoglobin and oxygen. Though biological topics would dominate much of his work going forward, Pauling stressed that “I continue to find pleasure in looking at minerals, and thinking about their structures.”

Two years after receiving the Roebling Medal, Pauling was invited back by the society to give a speech titled “Crystallography and Chemical Bonding of Sulfides,” which was published in the Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium volume of the Mineralogical Society of America Journal. Pauling remained a society fellow for life and received a certificate recognizing his contributions to the group in 1994, not long before he passed away.

                                                                                                                               

Oppenheimer Minerals Update

We’ve received several comments on the unidentified minerals referenced in the previous post.  Here are those comments, along with revised images of the mystery specimens as color-corrected in Photoshop, (the original photos all having been admittedly a bit too yellow).

unidentified-1

“possibly native silver or copper… the colors are a bit distorted in the [original] photo”

“appears to be native silver, perhaps from Mexico”


unidentified-2

“appears to be native copper, perhaps from Arizona”


unidentified-3

[No comments yet]


unidentified-4

“is a polished section(?) through a nautiloid cephalapod”

“this would appear to be an ammonite or other related shell fossil”


unidentified-5

“appears to be a mica.  If brown it is probably phologopite; if green it is probably chlorite.”

“Biotite or muscovite”


unidentified-6

unidentified-6

[No comments yet]


Sincere thanks to commenters Axel Emmerman, Pete Richards and Kris Rowe for their feedback.  A note also that Dr. Andrew A. Sicree has kindly posted the full text of his Popular Mineralogy article “Atom Bombs and the Mineral Collector” in the comments section to the previous post.

 

The Oppenheimer Minerals

For a short period of time in the late 1920s, Linus Pauling and J. Robert Oppenheimer were colleagues at the California Institute of Technology.  While the tenor of their relationship was, in the end, rather tumultuous, the two did share many common interests.

One such interest was a passion for minerals.  Both Pauling and Oppenheimer developed a fondness for collecting and classifying rocks at an early age, and as a token of his esteem during their time together at Caltech, Oppenheimer gave to Pauling a large portion of his own collection.  The gift comprised several hundred specimens, once occupying twenty cabinet drawers in Pauling’s office. (For more on Oppenheimer’s fascination with minerals, see page six of this piece by Dr. Andrew A. Sicree – PDF link)

Over the years Pauling gave away a large portion of Oppenheimer’s gift – several items went to Pauling’s son-in-law Barclay Kamb, a renowned geologist, while others were given to Linus Pauling, Jr.  Oppenheimer’s original identifications for many of the specimens were likewise lost over the course of time.

A few of the minerals made their way to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, images of which are presented in the gallery below.  We have done our best to classify each item, though our departmental background in mineralogy is admittedly thin.  That noted,  if any of our readers should have an idea as to the proper or more precise identity of any of the stones, please drop us a note in the Comments section and we’ll update our records, and this post.

[All images by Anna Wilsey]

Clarifying Three Widespread Quotes

When we find ourselves with a few spare moments, one of our favorite pastimes is conducting Google Blogsearch queries for the term “Linus Pauling.”  Typically we come across a few of the more recent posts that we ourselves have published, catch up with the latest news from The Linus Pauling Quartet and sometimes unearth interesting bits of information that spur new ideas for the PaulingBlog.

One does not have to search for too long, however, before finding one of three quotes that have spread rather dramatically across the internet.  One of these quotes was definitely uttered by Pauling, but is often imperfectly reproduced.  A second quote was actually published, but we have our doubts as to whether or not Pauling really did say it.  The third quote, we and others feel, is likely a fabrication.

Yes: On Having Good Ideas

Pauling delighted in recounting a specific quote on his “method” for having good ideas.  The quote shows up in many forms at various spots on the web, but is probably best recited as follows:

The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.

The provenance of this famous quote is traced to a letter written to Pauling by a former graduate student, David Harker, in commemoration of Pauling’s sixtieth birthday.  Here’s the urtext:

Excerpt from a letter by David Harker to Linus Pauling, February 20, 1961.

Excerpt from a letter by David Harker to Linus Pauling, February 20, 1961.

Listen: Pauling recounts the circumstances of this quote:

Maybe: On Cancer Research

“Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud, and that the major cancer research organizations are derelict in their duties to the people who support them.”

Google has indexed 547 static webpages that include some version of this quote, attributed to Linus Pauling.  Only one of these 547 pages includes a citation: Outrage! For Those Opposed to Animal Abuse. (Tonbridge, Kent England) 47, October/November 1986.  The staff at Animal Aid, which published this issue of Outrage!, kindly provided us with a scan of the page on which this quote appears — see the lower left-hand side:

pg. 14

Outrage! (Oct/Nov 1986): pg. 14

The first detail that pops out to us is that there is no citation provided for the quote.  It’s pretty clear too, that the quote was not given by Pauling as an exclusive to Outrage! Moreover — and most importantly — it seems unlikely to us that Pauling would paint with such a clumsy brush in recounting his feelings about cancer research.

The background to the cancer research circumstance is fascinating but too complex for us to detail here. (Evelleen Richards’ tremendous Vitamin C and Cancer: Medicine or Politics? is highly recommended for those interested in the whole story)  For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that Pauling took considerable umbrage with a series of trials conducted by the Mayo Clinic, first in 1979 and later in 1985, that purported to refute his and Ewan Cameron‘s work on the potential for treating cancer with large amounts of ascorbic acid. (A bit more background is here and here.) One of Pauling’s major complaints was that the Mayo Clinic had misrepresented its trial methods in a manner that biased the data toward its eventual conclusion.  In her book, Richards includes the text of a slide that Pauling often used in his post-Mayo lectures on vitamin C and cancer:

The Mayo article is misleading and dishonest.  It might be described as fraudulent.  It purported to be a repetition of Dr. Cameron’s study, but it was greatly different, in a way that the Mayo Clinic investigators succeeded in hiding from the readers of their paper.

Clearly Pauling was deeply upset about the Mayo trials and their conclusions — his anger on this matter is well-documented in the Pauling archive — and he obviously wasn’t against describing the Mayo work as “fraudulent.”  However, his extending that description to “most cancer research” strikes us as being out of character.  Pauling was a very clear thinker and a careful writer, and it seems to us that his feelings about cancer research, circa 1986, are more likely summed up by these extracts from his book How to Live Longer and Feel Better

Despite the great amount of money and effort expended in the study of cancer, progress during the last twenty-five years has been slow.  A significant increase in survival time after diagnosis was achieved about thirty years ago, largely through improvements in the techniques of surgery and anesthesia.  During the last twenty-five years some improvement in treatment of certain kinds of cancer has been achieved, mainly through the use of high-energy radiation and chemotherapy, but for most kinds of cancer there has been essentially no decrease in either incidence or length of time of survival after diagnosis, and it has become evident that some new ideas are needed, if greater control over this scourge is to be achieved.

Critical?  For sure.  But hardly incendiary. None of this, of course, is proof that Pauling, in a fit of pique, didn’t one day lump most cancer research under the “Fraud” heading.  Our feeling is that it is unlikely.  But even if he did, the calmer and more balanced 1986 quote is surely more indicative of his true feelings on the matter.

Probably Not: On the Importance of Minerals

“You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

This one shows up on roughly 1,500 web pages and is uniformly uncited.  Importantly, most of the 1,500 sites on which the text is used are attempting to sell a product. In the Spring/Summer 2003 edition of their newsletter, the Linus Pauling Institute staff directly addressed the dubious nature of these thoughts on minerals.

A statement purportedly attributed to Linus Pauling has proliferated on the Internet, often in association with the sale of mineral supplements. The alleged quote is usually akin to “You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.” We are reasonably certain that Pauling never made such a statement for the obvious reason that it is untrue. Pauling was interested in the health effects of micronutrients, especially vitamin C, the vitamin that absorbed his interest for almost thirty years. Throughout his career, Pauling used x-ray diffraction to elucidate the molecular structure of many inorganic substances, such as minerals, and organic substances like proteins. If he had been particularly interested in the health benefits of minerals, he would have focused his research in this direction. There is no evidence in the published literature that he did so.

Indeed, while Pauling does recommend taking a mineral supplement every day as part of his “Regimen for Better Health” (How to Live Longer and Feel Better, p. 9) he specifically warns against overdoing it (p. 12), noting that

The essential minerals differ from the vitamins in that overdoses of minerals may be harmful.  Do not increase your vitamin intake by taking a large number of vitamin-mineral tablets.  Limit your mineral intake to the recommended amounts.

This from a guy who was taking 18 grams of vitamin C at the time that he was authoring How to Live Longer…

We feel reasonably confident in our research on the items discussed in this post.  However, if anyone can provide definitive proof for either the cancer research or minerals quotes, please do let us know and we’ll promise to devote a future blog post to further clarification of the matter.