David and Clara Shoemaker

David and Clara Shoemaker working in an x-ray laboratory at Oregon State University, 1983.

Husband and wife crystallographers David and Clara Shoemaker were, in many respects, an unlikely couple.

David Shoemaker was born on May 12, 1920 in the tiny town of Kooskia, Idaho. Clara Brink was born on June 20, 1921 in Rolde, Holland. Both moved through their primary studies in orderly fashion and progressed to undergraduate work in chemistry – David at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Clara at the University of Leiden.

In 1942 David received his bachelor’s degree from Reed and moved directly to the California Institute of Technology. Working under Linus Pauling, David quickly established himself as a promising doctoral candidate. His research was initially divided between Pauling’s expansive program of scientific war work and, later, a series of crystallographic investigations. While in Pasadena, David determined the structure of sixteen molecules, most notable among them threonine, an amino acid.

Upon receiving his Ph. D. in 1947, David – with the assistance of Pauling – was subsequently named a Guggenheim fellow, studying at both Oxford and the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen. Aged 27, he was among the youngest of his era to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Group photo of participants at the Conference on Current Problems of Physics. Copenhagen, Denmark. September 1947. Niels Bohr sits in the front row, far left. David Shoemaker is seated in the second row, fourth from right.

Group photo of participants at the Conference on Current Problems of Physics. Copenhagen, Denmark. September 1947. Niels Bohr sits in the front row, far left. David Shoemaker is seated in the second row, fourth from right.

Clara’s path through graduate studies was somewhat less smooth. She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Leiden in 1941, shortly before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and the subsequent closing of the university. Despite the turbulence of World War II, Clara was able to commence her graduate studies through the University of Utrecht, though much of her coursework was self-taught, conducted in her parents’ home. Despite these handicaps, Clara completed her doctoral examinations on time, in 1946, after which point she assumed an assistantship at the University of Utrecht and learned the techniques of x-ray crystallography, commuting one day per week to Amsterdam to study under the renowned crystallographer Caroline MacGillavry.

The years immediately following the close of hostilities were fruitful ones for both David and Clara. Having returned home from his Guggenheim trip, David was named a Senior Research Fellow at Caltech, where he solved the difficult structure of DL-serine and began the research program that came to define much of his (and Clara’s) career – a broad series of investigations into the structures of complex transition-metal phases. In the meantime, Clara became a full-time crystallographer, first studying crystal structures of monovalent ions at the University of Leiden and later working for one year at Oxford, where she conducted research on the crystal structure of vitamin B12 under Dorothy Hodgkin, the 1964 Nobel laureate in Chemistry.

In 1951 David was hired away from Caltech by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he began investigating zeolite structures as an Assistant Professor. Two years later, dissatisfied with the working environment at the University of Leiden, Clara took a one-year leave of absence to work on transition metals at M.I.T. Her laboratory in Cambridge was run by David Shoemaker.

In 1954 David renewed Clara’s leave of absence for an additional year and by 1955 it was clear that Clara would not be returning to Europe – on August 5th, the couple was married. Shortly thereafter Clara transferred to Harvard Medical School to work under the biochemist Barbara W. Low. One year later, Clara gave birth to the couple’s only son. While caring for the newborn Robert, Clara worked from home on the International Tables of Crystallography.

The Shoemakers enjoyed a productive tenure at M. I. T. – David was promoted to full professor, began a lengthy service on the U. S. National Committee for Crystallography (including a three-year term as President) and published widely, including a textbook titled Experiments in Physical Chemistry, which would eventually run through six editions.

In 1970 David was elected President of the American Crystallography Association. That same year, the Shoemakers relocated to Oregon State University, where David had been hired to chair the Department of Chemistry. In reaction to the university’s nepotism guidelines, Clara arranged to work as Research Associate under Dr. Ken Hedberg – like David Shoemaker, a former graduate student of Linus Pauling. The arrangement lasted for several years until the university’s rules were relaxed.

Model of the crystal structure and superstructure of the K Phase, Mn77Fe4Si19. Model built by Clara B. Shoemaker, David P. Shoemaker and Ted E. Hopkins.

During his tenure as department chair, David oversaw two major building projects – the construction of a new chemistry laboratory facility and the renovation of the chemistry offices and research building. Over that same period of time, Clara trained several graduate students in techniques of x-ray crystallography, publishing papers with many of her protégés. The couple retired in 1984, though they continued to conduct important work on transition metal phases as well as the controversial topic of quasicrystals.

The Shoemakers remained close friends with Linus Pauling, though they did dispute certain of Pauling’s claims about the nature of quasicrystals. In 1995 David Shoemaker, himself in fading health, spoke of his long association with Pauling at a memorial conference organized at Oregon State University. David’s comments detailing his recollection of the discovery of the alpha-helix caused something of a stir in the audience, as the provenance of the alpha-helix work has long been a matter of some dispute.

David Shoemaker on the Discovery of the Alpha Helix

Afterward, Shoemaker offered this clarification:

My memory may have been faulty in claiming to have seen Pauling actually taping his cardboard amide linkages together to form a helix, but Professor William Lipscomb, in a talk that preceded mine, showed a drawing in Pauling’s own hand of an alpha-helix rolled out flat, showing what points the polypeptide chain joined together in the helix. The drawing was titled ‘alpha helix. First drawn March 1948. Linus Pauling.’ My visit to Oxford was from January to March 1948.

David Shoemaker died of kidney failure on August 24, 1995, some six months after the Pauling memorial conference. His wife Clara, a close friend of our department, passed away on September 30, 2009. Over the course of their professional association, David and Clara published thirty-six scientific papers together.

The David and Clara Shoemaker Papers are just one of the many collections held in the OSU Libraries Special Collections.

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Ten Years of the Valley Library

Linus Pauling in the original Special Collections reading room, 1988.

Linus Pauling in the original Special Collections reading room, 1988.

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the dedication of the Valley Library, home of the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.

The importance of the Valley Library construction effort – a $40 million project that was at least five years in the making – is difficult to overstate.  The transformation from the old Kerr Library (remembered by many for its rather unusual south-end “cheese-grater” facade) to the sleek modern facility that we now enjoy, signaled a major step forward for students, staff and faculty alike.  The christening of the Valley Library brought with it, among many other improvements, a fully-wired information commons, a multi-floor study rotunda, dozens of private study rooms, tens of thousands of square feet for new office space and even a coffee shop. (A video tour of the building is available here)

A strong case could be made, however, that no department within the library was as radically-impacted by the expansion than was Special Collections.  The initial Special Collections facility, created as a temporary location in the months following Linus Pauling’s donation of his papers in 1986, was essentially carved out of a pre-existing storage area – the reading room, office (there was only one, for a staff of three) and collections storage shelving were crammed into a space of perhaps 2,000 square feet.  The area was alarmed and temperature controlled, but much too small to hold the 4,400 linear foot Pauling Papers, parts of which resided in an off-campus warehouse for about three years.

A glimpse of the original Special Collections space can be seen in the short first clip included below, as extracted from a 1994 development video produced for the library expansion marketing campaign.  Notice in particular the computers and scanner contemporary to the era.

We’re pleased to note that the general thrust of the second clip has been, and continues to be, more or less fulfilled.  At this point, tens of thousands of pages of content from the Pauling archive have been digitized and are freely-available on the web.  That said, the world’s schoolchildren are not, at this point, able to read our letters from Niels Bohr to Pauling, though that’s solely due to copyright restrictions, rather than technical infrastructure.

In terms of physical infrastructure, the change from the original Special Collections facility to our current environment could not be more pronounced.  As with the first space, our permanent home is secure and temperature controlled, but now we have a great deal of room at our disposal to store our collections and conduct our work.  Included in this space is a grand foyer which hosts a rotating display and has served as the location for numerous university events.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections display foyer.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections display foyer.

Final display foyer artist's conception.

Final display foyer artist's conception.

Special Collections display foyer, east end.

Special Collections display foyer, east end.

Likewise, in ten-plus years our reading room has hosted the research of thousands of scholars, from Nobel laureates to honors chemistry undergraduates to enthusiastic visitors from Linus Pauling Middle School.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections reading room.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections reading room.

As it turns out, we have yet to see our first comet.  But the fifth-floor view is indeed terrific.

Final reading room artist's conception.

Final reading room artist's conception.

The Special Collections reading room, as viewed from the East. (Click image to view Reading Room panorama)

The Special Collections reading room, as viewed from the East. (Click image to view Reading Room panorama)

Facilities issues are a huge problem for so many archives and special collections – too often, in leaky basements, overheated lofts and spaces infiltrated by pests, our colleagues around the world are forced to make grim decisions about what to preserve and what to expose to a wide swath of imperfect elements.  Fortunately, thanks to the thousands of supporters who worked so hard to create the Valley Library, we are able to store our collections securely and in optimal conditions, thus freeing-up most of our resources to providing ever-greater access to the unique treasures secured behind our walls.

For those interested in a closer look at our facilities, please see this behind-the-scenes video tour, led by Head of Special Collections Cliff Mead.  Likewise, an account of the Valley Library dedication ceremonies, as they happened in May 1999, is available in the Winter 1999 issue of The Messenger.  Finally, our colleagues in the University Archives have released a terrific (and growing) set of images on Flickr commemorating the library’s anniversary.

The Guggenheim Trip, Part III: Unexpected Colleagues

Walter Heitler, Fritz London, and Ava Helen Pauling in Europe. 1926.

Walter Heitler, Fritz London, and Ava Helen Pauling in Europe. 1926.

The paper of Heitler and London on H2 for the first time seemed to provide a basic understanding, which could be extended to other molecules. Linus Pauling at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena soon used the valence bond method. . . . As a master salesman and showman, Linus persuaded chemists all over the world to think of typical molecular structures in terms of the valence bond method.” – Robert Mulliken. Life of a Scientist, pp. 60-61. 1989.

After Linus Pauling’s publication of “The Theoretical Prediction of the Physical Properties of Many-Electron Atoms and Ions,” he was ready for an even greater challenge – the problem of the chemical bond was a tantalizing enigma for Pauling, and he wanted more time in Europe to work on it. In the winter of 1926, he applied for an extension of his Guggenheim fellowship and with the help of a particularly complementary cover letter from Arnold Sommerfeld, Pauling was granted six more months of support.

Boosted by this news, he quickly began planning visits to Copenhagen and Zurich, both cities boasting of some of Europe’s finest research facilities. His first stop was Copenhagen, where he hoped to visit Niels Bohr’s institute and discuss ongoing research with the renowned scientist. Unfortunately, he had arrived uninvited and found it almost impossible to obtain a meeting with the physicist. Bohr, with the help of Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, was deeply engaged in research on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, and was specifically attempting to root out the physical realities of the electron, in the process developing a theory which would eventually be termed the “Copenhagen Interpretation.”

Pauling did, however, did make one valuable discovery in Denmark — that of a young Dutch physicist named Samuel Goudsmit. The two men quickly became friends and began discussing the potential translation of Goudsmit’s doctoral thesis from German to English. Their work did eventually get them noticed by Bohr, who finally granted Pauling and Goudsmit an audience. Unfortunately for the pair, Bohr was neither engaging nor encouraging. Nevertheless, the two continued to work together, their cooperation eventually culminating in a 1930 text, The Structure of Line Spectra, the first book-form publication for either scientist.

In 1926 though, frustrated by his unproductive time in Copenhagen, Pauling departed, stopping briefly at Max Born’s institute in Göttingen before traveling to Zurich where other advances in quantum mechanics promised an interesting stay. Unfortunately, the man Pauling was most interested in, Erwin Schrödinger, proved to be just as unavailable as Bohr. The quantum mechanics revolution was consuming the time and thoughts of Europe’s leading physicists and Pauling, a small-fry American researcher, simply wasn’t important enough to attract the interest of men like Bohr and Schrödinger.

Fritz London

Fritz London

As a result, Pauling chose to converse and work with men of his own status in the scientific community. Fritz London and Walter Heitler, acquaintances of the Paulings, had spent the past several months working on the application of wave mechanics to the study of electron-pair bonding.

Heitler and London’s work was an outgrowth of their interest in the applications and derivations of Heisenberg’s theory of resonance, which suggested that electrons are exchanged between atoms as a result of electronic attraction. Heitler and London determined that this process, under certain conditions, could result in the creation of electron bonds by cancelling out electrostatic repulsion via the energy from electron transfer. Their work on hydrogen bonds likewise agreed with existing theories, including Wolfgang Pauli’s exclusion principle and G.N. Lewis’ shared electron bond. The Heitler-London model was well on its way to contributing to a new truth about the physics of the atom

Walter Heitler

Walter Heitler

Pauling used his time in Zurich to experiment with the Heitler-London work. While he didn’t produce a paper during his stay, the new model made a great impression on him and he returned to Caltech with a renewed sense of purpose. He was preparing to tackle the problem of atomic structure, in all its manifestations, and make history as one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.

For more information, view our post “Linus Pauling and the Birth of Quantum Mechanics” or visit the website “Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History.”