Remembering Ken Hedberg: Part 2, Caltech and Norway

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Ken Hedberg and others onstage at Caltech, performing in the celebration held for Linus Pauling on the occasion of his receipt of the Nobel Chemistry Prize, December 1954.

[A celebration of the life of Dr. Kenneth Hedberg, 1920-2019. This is part 2 of 5.]

Once enrolled as a graduate student at the California Institute of  Technology, Hedberg worked under Linus Pauling and a fellow doctoral candidate, C. Gardner Swain, on a study of the oxidation of leuco malachite green to form a dye called malachite green. The group published a paper on the subject at the conclusion of Swain’s tenure as a student. It was unusual for a PhD candidate rather than a professor to supervise another doctoral student, but Pauling suggested the arrangement because the only professor doing the kind of work that Hedberg was interested in at the time – chemical kinetics and mechanisms – had died the year before and not yet been replaced.

Hedberg’s laboratory experience with Shell Development Company prepared him well for his studies, and proved especially useful to Swain, who had actually logged fewer lab hours than had Hedberg by that point. Ken also quickly discovered that the facilities at Caltech were not on the same level as those outfitted at Shell, and he soon realized that a major piece of his job would be to build basic instruments, an impediment that slowed progress significantly but was a simple fact of life in Pasadena (and that later came in very handy once Hedberg returned to Corvallis).

After Swain left, Hedberg began to work with a young faculty member, Verner Schomaker, who had also studied under Pauling. Together, Hedberg and Schomaker launched an investigation of the structure of boron compounds, starting with diborane, which they determined to have a non-ethane-like structure.


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Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, 1948.

As one might expect, Hedberg came to know Pauling well and retained many fond memories of their interactions at Caltech. Later in life, he recalled that Pauling was friendly and generally well-liked but that he tended to maintain more formal relationships with his students and colleagues rather than embracing casual relationships. By Hedberg’s recollection, Pauling was always referred to as “Dr. Pauling,” even though most of his colleagues were on a first-name basis with one another. Pauling also rarely attended the frequent parties that were a mainstay for most others in the division.

Hedberg became trusted enough that he housesat for the Paulings several times and watched the Pauling children. He remembered in particular that Peter and Linda Pauling used to go around the chemistry department inviting everyone to come swim in the Pauling’s pool. The Pauling pool was a popular location, and was heavily used particularly when Dr. and Mrs. Pauling were out of town.

Pauling also sometimes let his childhood friend Lloyd Jeffress stay in the house if he was on holiday in the area while the Paulings were away. In one such instance, Pauling had asked Hedberg to stay at the house with the kids, and had also invited Jeffress to stay at the same time but had neglected to let Hedberg know. It took Ken three days to realize that Jeffress was also living in the house because their schedules were so different. Jeffress, on holiday, was waking up long after Hedberg had left the house in the morning, and was otherwise staying out late or staying in his room. With a laugh, Hedberg recalled waking up late at night two nights in a row thinking he heard someone splashing in the pool, but deciding not to investigate further once he had confirmed that the kids were in bed. He only realized Jeffress was there when he walked into the kitchen one day and saw a strange man making breakfast.

On another occasion, Hedberg was seated at his desk one Saturday morning when Pauling wandered into his office. Many of the Caltech graduate students were intimidated by Pauling, who often roamed the Gates and Crellin Laboratories in his slippers on Saturday mornings. In this instance Pauling sat down, put his feet up on Ken’s desk, and asked how things were going. Hedberg reported that all was well, and felt relieved when Pauling seemed about to leave without asking any probing questions.

Pauling then noticed a keychain on Hedberg’s desk, which he picked up and looked at. The keychain consisted of a device with an eyepiece and lens containing a small photograph which could only be viewed by looking into the eyepiece against a strong light. The image that one then saw was of a naked girl standing on a large rock in the middle of a mountain stream. Pauling peered through the eyepiece for a moment and uttered a response that Hedberg delighted in retelling. “Hmmm,” he said, “Basalt,” and then walked out of the office. Shocked, Hedberg had to look through the device himself to notice the rock.


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Otto Bastiansen

Hedberg had initially planned to spend an extra year on his studies at Caltech before writing his thesis so that he would be able to work under Dr. Richard Badger, a renowned spectroscopist. Pauling suggested instead that Hedberg finish his thesis and get his degree, after which point he would make sure that Hedberg received a fellowship to stay on an extra year under Badger. Verner Schomaker was in Denmark at that time, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, so Hedberg’s work was actually being overseen by Robert Corey. He finished his degree and took his examination, and then found out that he had indeed been awarded a Noyes Fellowship to work with Badger for a year, learning spectroscopy and continuing his electron diffraction work.

At the end of the Noyes Fellowship year, Hedberg was appointed a research fellow at Caltech and worked on Schomaker’s grant through the Office of Naval Research. During this time, he met many researchers from abroad who came to collaborate with Pauling, and eventually he decided that he wanted to gain some international experience himself. In short order, he put in a Fulbright application to study spectroscopy in Belgium but was denied because his application missed the deadline. From there, Otto Bastiansen, a Norwegian scientist who had come to Caltech to work with Pauling and became good friends with Hedberg, suggested that Ken submit a new application for the following year to spend time in Bastiansen’s electron diffraction lab in Oslo. Hedberg did so and, at Pauling’s urging, he also submitted a Guggenheim application for Norway. As Ken later recalled,

…Pauling walked into my office and said to me ‘Well, are you getting ready to go to Norway?’… I said ‘I didn’t know I was going.’ And he said ‘Well, the selection committee generally follows my recommendations.’ And then he turned and walked out. That was the total conversation we had on the issue.

Shortly thereafter, Hedberg was informed that he had been awarded both a Fulbright and a Guggenheim fellowship to study in Norway. Meanwhile, Hedberg’s wife, who had initially planned to accompany him, dissolved their marriage shortly before they were scheduled to depart, so Ken went to Norway alone and with a considerable amount of funding in hand. Bastiansen met him upon his arrival, helped him find an apartment, and set him up with some recordings and a lesson book to help him learn the language. Ken’s Norwegian friends later came to be amused by him reciting his lessons to them because the way he talked reminded them of the rector of the university.

Ken made a very positive impression on his scientific colleagues as well. In 1954, after Hedberg left Norway, Bastiansen wrote to Pauling that

It was very nice to have [Ken] here, and I should like to take the opportunity both on behalf of the institute and myself to emphasize how much we appreciated having him working at our laboratory. We are very grateful that you made it possible for him to come here and that you let him stay so long. There have been many foreigners at our institute during the last years, but no one has been of such a great value for our team as Ken… He is now really a kind of key man in electron diffraction.

 


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Ken and Lise Hedberg in 2018

Oslo was the setting for an important moment in Hedberg’s personal life as well. Once Ken had settled in, Bastiansen introduced Hedberg to his research assistant, Lise Smedvik. Her ability to speak English well, even though she had never been to an Anglophone country, immediately impressed Hedberg. Later he ran in to her by chance at a symphony and they went out for a snack together afterwards. More dates quickly followed.

In 1954, after a year in Norway, Hedberg’s fellowship was expired and he was obligated to return to the States. He and Lise had talked about getting married, but Hedberg had not felt ready because he was still reeling from the way his first marriage had ended. After arriving back in the U.S. he realized that he could not leave Lise behind, so he proposed to her. She accepted, and he returned to Norway that summer to be married. Their wedding took place in the Oslo City Hall and they remained together until Ken’s death earlier this year. Hedberg got along well with Lise’s family and remained deeply interested in Norwegian culture for the rest of his life. In time, he became fluent and literate in Norwegian and gave his lectures in Norwegian whenever he was invited to speak at a Norwegian university.

After they were married, Lise decided to move to the U.S. with her husband, but encountered difficulty in obtaining a visa. After weeks of waiting and not hearing back from the American embassy, Hedberg learned that they had not yet processed Lise’s application. He wrote a letter to his congressman complaining, but the congressman was dismissive and pointed out the embassy’s obligation to insure that this was not a marriage of convenience meant to get around U.S. immigration laws. Hedberg found out that the congressman was a conservative Republican and cited that experience as paramount in insuring his life-long allegiance to the Democratic party.

Once the couple finally obtained the necessary papers and moved back to the States, Lise almost immediately wanted to get right back on the plane and go home because she hated the smog that permeated the Los Angeles region at that time.


As it turned out, the Hedbergs stayed in Pasadena for more than five years, during which time Ken worked as a senior research fellow. One day a colleague in organic chemistry, Carl Niemann, stopped him in the hall to tell him that he had received a letter from an associate at Oregon State College regarding a position that had recently opened up in their Chemistry department. Niemann thought that Hedberg might be interested in this opportunity, on account of his Oregon State ties.

Back in 1952, prior to leaving for Norway, Hedberg had written to Pauling that he considered himself “a Californian in spirit” and expressed an interest in settling permanently in the state. But now things were different: Lise detested the southern California air pollution and she was also pregnant. The idea of raising a child in that environment was deeply off-putting, so Ken decided to explore the possibility of moving back to Oregon.

After investigating the OSC opportunity some more, Ken turned it down because he found out that the college was mostly looking for someone to supervise graduate teaching assistants and hold recitations for freshmen classes. It seemed unlikely to Hedberg that he would be able to get a good research program going in these circumstances, and he was not willing to give up his scholarly work.

Following Hedberg’s rebuff, OSC increased its salary offer in an effort to get him to come. But it was a conversation with Pauling that played a deciding role in Ken’s change of heart. Asked for his advice on the matter, Pauling admitted that “I think that Oregon State will not be a first class institution for research in my time and probably not in yours,” but he also offered that, “On the other hand that’s not really important… Lise will be very happy there, Oregon is a wonderful place to live… I think it might be worthwhile giving it a chance. I think you could make it go and you’d be very happy there.”

Thus encouraged, Hedberg decided to accept the position, and it turned out to be the right choice. Lise liked Oregon much better than dry, dusty California, because, as with Oslo, there were “trees in the forests and water in the rivers.” The couple made the move and so began a faculty career at Oregon State that lasted for sixty-three years.

Oslo Bound

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

While letters congratulating Linus Pauling for winning the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize continued to pour into his office early in December 1963, the debate in the press over whether Pauling deserved the Nobel had begun to cool down. Meanwhile, closer to home in southern California, friends and colleagues of Pauling and his wife Ava Helen honored the pair for their activism at several events.

On December 1st, eight activist groups, including Women Strike for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, SANE, and the Youth Action Committee, held a public reception for the Paulings at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Los Angeles. The Paulings also opened their home to celebrate with friends and former students. The celebrants made banners to honor the Paulings, one reading, “We knew you when you only had one.” Another took on a more mathematical form: “LP plus AHP equals PAX plus 2 Nobels.”

While the Pauling’s attended celebrations in their honor, they were obliged to refuse other offers as they prepared for their trip. A Caltech student requested that Pauling give a farewell speech before leaving for Scandinavia. Turning down the request, Pauling would tell the Associated Press a few days later that he was not giving any speeches before he accepted his Nobel Prize so as not to “be tempted to let something drop beforehand.”

Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

It is, of course, entirely possible that something else was in play with respect to Pauling’s refusal to speak at Caltech.  Much has been made of Caltech’s official non-response to Pauling’s Nobel Peace award.  Indeed, the only recognition that occurred at all on the Pasadena campus was a small coffee hour hosted by the Biology Department. The fact that his own department, to say nothing of the larger institution, chose to ignore this major decoration was deeply hurtful to Pauling. By December Pauling had already announced his departure from Caltech, his academic home of some forty-one years. But the cold shoulder that he received from all but the Biology Department was suggestive of tensions that had been mounting for some time and proved a fitting, if bitter, capstone to this unhappy phase of his relationship with the Institute.


Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

For their part, mainstream journalists had finally begun to take a more amicable and celebratory approach to their portrayals of Pauling than had generally been the case since the announcement of his Nobel win in October. Articles sought a more personal reflection of Pauling while not completely ignoring the earlier controversy.

Of particular note, as the Paulings flew across the Atlantic on December 7th, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an interview with their eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr., in which he reflected on his father’s activism. When asked to gauge Pauling’s talents, Pauling Jr. downplayed his father’s peace efforts in relation to his work as a scientist. “In terms of his ability to marshal facts and to organize and reorganize them toward a goal,” Pauling Jr. stated, “his strivings for peace are comparatively simple, whereas this ability applied to science demonstrates an astoundingly high degree of creative imagination. Essentially, his work in peace is a public relations job – to get the facts across to the public in a meaningful way.”

When asked what inspired his father to engage in peace work, Pauling Jr. said that “innately, he has always been a humanitarian.” His aversion to hunting and his resistance to Japanese internment during World War II were submitted as past evidence of these humanist proclivities.

Digging a little deeper, Pauling Jr. pointed to his father’s experience with Bright’s disease in the early 1940s as a turning point in taking on social issues. At the beginning of the disease, which manifested in bloating and impaired kidney functioning, the elder Pauling “was pretty close to dying.” During his recovery he was forced to rest and spent time weaving blankets. Pauling Jr. thought that his father’s time of rest “forced him to contemplate on the value of life; on the wrongs of killing and harming that was going on around the world.”

Ava Helen Pauling also was a major influence on her husband according to Pauling Jr. Of particular importance was her work with Union Now during the early war years – an activist platform that called for world government as a tool for mediating international issues between nations.

Pauling Jr. inevitably addressed some of the controversy surrounding his father’s alleged communist ties, saying that he had “never heard him praise communism, although, on occasion, he has criticized some aspects of capitalism, such as unequal opportunities. Today,” he continued, “that’s known as civil rights.”


Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

The following day, an Associated Press article that centered on Pauling’s life and his “book-and-paper strewn den,” came out in papers across the country. With the Nobel ceremonies only two days away, the headlines that ran with the article insinuated something big, with variations of “Pauling Hints at Surprises in Oslo Speech,” “Linus Pauling Promises Speech Shocker,” or “Pauling Predicts Shock.” The actual feature article, written by Ralph Dighton, was less sensational.

A Peanuts cartoon strip signed by Charles Schultz on display at the Pauling’s home helped Dighton to characterize his subject. The strip showed the animated character Linus stacking blocks in a “gravity-defying stairstep fashion” with the tagline, “Linus, you can’t do that!” Pauling’s own reaction after reading it, Dighton noted, was a loud laugh. For Dighton, the lesson of the cartoon was that “the world has been telling Pauling [you can’t do] that all his life, and he keeps doing what for many others would be impossible.”

In his piece, Dighton also spoke to Pauling’s decision to leave Caltech in favor of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Pauling avoided any discussion of problems at Caltech and instead explained that receiving the Nobel Peace Prize was an opportunity and his decision to leave was a direct consequence of his prize. At the Center, Pauling would have more freedom to focus on his peace work and international affairs while also continuing to delve into the molecular basis of disease.

While the article avoided adding to the controversy surrounding Pauling, it still discussed past instances to remind readers that Pauling was never far from trouble. The list was familiar to those who had followed Pauling’s career: the 1952 denial of Pauling’s passport due to suspected communist tendencies; his1958 petition against nuclear testing, signed by over 11,000 scientists from 49 different countries; the consequent 1960 “joust” with the Senate Internal Security subcommittee; his picketing of the Kennedy White House just before attending dinner inside. All helped to exemplify how Pauling had “made a public scourge of himself.”


Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Neilen Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

As Pauling set his sights on Europe and the spotlight of international attention, he left behind a busy office. His assistants Helen Gilrane and Katherine Cassady, who had typed up numerous thank you letters and helped to coordinate Pauling’s increasingly busy life over the previous two months, continued to assist Pauling from a distance. Both kept on answering Pauling’s unceasing correspondence while also working out the details of his still-unfolding trip. For her part, Gilrane responded to Bertrand Russell among many others, telling him that Pauling would be unable to respond right away. Communications of high importance were forwarded to Pauling in Norway; others had to wait until his return in January.

The Paulings return trip through the East Coast had not been finalized either. Gilrane made reservations in New York and Philadelphia while also coordinating Pauling’s wardrobe for the celebrations that would take place upon his return. She wrote to Samuel Rubin, President of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, that Pauling “shall have his smoking jacket as well as his tails, but he will wear whatever you think is appropriate for the evening.”

Pauling also benefited from the help of friends in Norway. Otto Bastiansen, a Norwegian physicist and chemist, worked out much of Pauling’s Scandinavian itinerary, deciding where he would lecture and with whom he would meet. Since the entire Pauling family, including the children’s spouses, was coming, Bastiansen had to work out how they might be involved in activities as well. The Paulings’ first event happened almost as soon as they landed in Oslo on Sunday, December 8th. Ignored by the U.S. embassy or any other official representative from his home country, Pauling was welcomed at a private party held at the home of Marie Lous-Mohr, a Norwegian Holocaust survivor and peace activist who had also helped to arrange Pauling’s schedule.

On December 9th, the day before the Peace Prize ceremonies, the Paulings had lunch with friends and colleagues from Norway at the Hotel Continental, where they were staying. Afterward Linus and Ava Helen, together with two of their sons, Peter and Linus Jr., participated in a press conference. The event focused mostly on the man of the hour, who was very optimistic about the significance of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and expressed gratitude toward the many people who worked in the peace movement. The Associated Press quoted Pauling as stating,

I think awarding me the prize will mean great encouragement to the peace workers everywhere, but particularly in the United States, where there have been so many attacks upon the peace workers… For some time it has been regarded as improper there to talk about these things. I think this is about the best thing that could happen for the movement.

As the world was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pauling said that Kennedy’s “attitude” helped make peace activism acceptable in the United States. Pauling steered away from any criticisms of Kennedy, as one reporter prodded Pauling about his opinion of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, Pauling had been extremely critical, calling Kennedy’s threat of military action against Russia “horrifying” as it could easily lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Regardless, Pauling told the press in Oslo that the situation “taught the lesson to the world, that the existence of nuclear weapons is a peril to the human race.”

The next day, Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to that peril.

A New Petition and Preparations for Oslo

Linus Pauling holding a copy of the 1961 appeal.

[Ed Note: May 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Oslo Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons.  The is Part 1 of a two part series devoted to the Oslo Conference.]

“Can there be any rational goal other than general and complete disarmament? Is it reasonable to plan to attempt to survive the catastrophe of megaton war? Is it sensible or even possible to entertain the idea of making international agreements to abolish megaton weapons and to fight ‘limited’ wars with only conventional or kiloton weapons? Would the world be safe under a permanent ‘balance of terror,’ reached by international agreement about ‘arms control’ rather than disarmament – two great arrays of rockets, with megaton warheads, ever poised, ready to achieve the destruction of their allotted halves of the world, the death of their allotted hundreds of millions of human beings?”

– Linus Pauling. Opening Address, Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Oslo, Norway, May 2, 1961.

At the beginning of 1961, Linus Pauling was pictured on the cover of Time magazine, one of several U.S. scientists collectively chosen as Time’s men of the year. John F. Kennedy had just defeated Richard Nixon for the U.S. presidency, and only three months had passed since Pauling’s final confrontation with Senator Thomas Dodd and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.

Pauling’s troubles with SISS had centered largely on his efforts, three years prior, to circulate an international petition to halt the testing of nuclear weapons, a document that was eventually submitted to the United Nations with the signatures of around 11,000 of the world’s scientists. The petition contributed substantial momentum to a temporary international test ban treaty signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union, which was followed by approximately three years of seemingly productive international negotiations in Geneva, Switerland, the focus of which was the negation of nuclear testing.

While Pauling felt that great progress had been made following the November 1958 decision to temporarily halt nuclear weapons tests, he grew uneasy with the rise of new developments around the world.  In particular, Pauling was alarmed by what he saw as a renewed and calculated domestic campaign to resume atomic testing in the United States. Likewise, in the aftermath of the test-detonation of a nuclear weapon by the government of France, serious discussions about the sharing of U.S. nuclear weapons with NATO nations began to hasten in earnest.

Around the beginning of January 1961, Pauling and his wife Ava Helen decided – as Linus put it in a later speech – to “take whatever action [they], as individual human beings, could take toward the achievement of permanent and true peace in the world.” Because of the success that the couple had enjoyed with their first international petition three years prior, the Paulings felt that another attempt was merited, and set about writing and circulating a second petition. This document, an “Appeal to Stop the Spread of Nuclear Weapons,” was initially addressed to both the United Nations and to the individual governments of the world.  It warned

The world is now in great danger. A cataclysmic nuclear war might break out as the result of some terrible accident or of an explosive deterioration in international relations such that even the wisest national leaders would be unable to avert the catastrophe. Universal disarmament has now become the essential basis for life and liberty for all people.

The new petition focused on the increased difficulty of effecting universal disarmament, as new nations or groups of nations came into possession of nuclear weapons. The document likewise urged the era’s nuclear powers to reject the transfer of nuclear weapons to other nations or political alliances, and encouraged non-nuclear nations to voluntarily refrain from seeking them. Lastly, the petition called upon all nations, whether they possessed nuclear weapons or not, to “increase their efforts to achieve total and universal disarmament with a system of international controls and inspection such as to insure to the greatest possible extent the safety of all nations and all people.”

The new petition was sent out to scientists that had supported the previous effort, and Pauling promptly received over 700 responses within one month, including replies from thirty-eight Nobel Prize winners and 110 members of the National Academy of Sciences. Pauling turned over his collection of responses to Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on February 16th, 1961.

While the Paulings were happy with the initial response to their appeal, they sought more support from people worldwide, using a series of subsequent press releases to spread the word. The petition was printed in various newspapers around the country and circulated among several nations around the world. While the document was initially signed by 700 people from 40 different nations, with renewed efforts, the the total number of signatories quickly began to approach 10,000.


During the writing and initial circulation stages of the 1961 appeal, the Paulings admitted to harboring many peace- and disarmament-related questions that they wished to see considered with more vigor. In light of their experiences with the Pugwash Conferences, the couple decided that non-proliferation was a topic worthy of its own event, ideally one where “scientists and other informed people from many countries [would] meet to study and analyze some aspects of the present great world problem.”  In actuality though, Pauling and his wife thought of their efforts as a supplement to the Pugwash meetings, rather than a gathering of its own.

Geneva was the first city considered as an ideal location to hold the conference, but after some thought the Paulings decided that it was more of a place for negotiations between nations, and eventually settled on Oslo, Norway instead. Oslo maintained worldwide significance as an International City of Peace, home to the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 1901 and the Norwegian Nobel Institute since 1905.  Moreover, a very important additional determinant for the location was the substantial amount of practical support that was extended to the Paulings in advance by their friend, Professor Otto Bastiansen, along with a good number of other Norwegian volunteers involved with a Norwegian group known as “the Thirteen.” As for the timing of the meeting, it fell into a convenient niche between the 6th Pugwash Conference in Moscow and the 7th Pugwash Conference in the U.S.  Even more importantly, the conference was set to culminate on the day before a major NATO meeting was to take place in Geneva.

Otto Bastiansen. Portrait by H. Stenstadvold / BONO 2010

The NATO meeting, a spring gathering of the Ministerial Council lasting from May 8 to 10, was the first meeting directed by a new Secretary-General of NATO, Dirk U. Stikker. The principle theme of the meeting was reportedly “the general awareness of the global character of the communist threat,” but particular focus was given over to aid for poorer nations, and the potential transfer of five Polaris nuclear missile submarines and eighty Polaris nuclear warheads to NATO forces in Europe. A final goal of the meeting was to address efforts to achieve disarmament with the Soviet Union, in particular the need to ensure policy consistency among NATO allies. While all topics were generally relevant to their aims, it was this last goal in particular that Pauling and his associates hoped to influence with their conference in Oslo.

After several weeks of intense planning and coordination, the Paulings managed to find twenty-five individuals from fifteen different countries who were willing to help sponsor the event and cover most expenses. As the conference drew near, planners extended invitations to scientists and other people with applicable special knowledge – in all, sixty scientists (both physical and social) from fifteen nations agreed to attend.