Redesigning our Web Presence

The first concept mock-up for a revised Special Collections homepage, September 2007.

The first conceptual mock-up for a revised Special Collections homepage, September 2007.

In September 2007, we decided that the time had come to redesign our home page and department web presence.  Last month, three graphic designers, dozens of mock-ups, hundreds of work hours and almost exactly two years later, we released our new look, complete with scads of fresh content.  For those interested in many of the details of what’s new, here is the press release announcing the launch.

The objective of this post is to talk a bit about our process, but before getting into that, let’s have a look at the old homepage as well as that which has now replaced it.

Old Special Collections homepage, launched September 2003.

Old Special Collections homepage, launched September 2003.

New Special Collections homepage, launched September 2009.

New Special Collections homepage, launched September 2009.

The Homepage

The desire to revamp our site was spurred initially by the realization that all of our various Pauling projects were amounting to an urban sprawl of sorts, cluttering up the right-hand side of the homepage.  The solution to this: Linus Pauling Online, a portal for all of the Pauling sites that could be linked to as a landing page from the Special Collections home and elsewhere, including the top-right corner of this blog.

The design for the Pauling portal was completed and released well before the site redesign was complete, but both projects were developed with the other in mind – aside from differing color schemes, the look and feel of the two pages are very similar.

Linus Pauling Online, launched January 2009.

Linus Pauling Online, launched January 2009.

Though the Pauling Online portal moved most of our Pauling resources off of the homepage, we still wanted to reserve some prime real estate for various featured projects – hence the “Featured” section, which currently links to the Pauling Centenary Conference, Linus Pauling Day-by-Day and the Pauling Chronology.

In a similar vein, now that we’re doing much more with video, it made sense to include a featured video component to the homepage.  Currently that video is Dr. Roderick MacKinnon’s 2008 Pauling Legacy Award lecture, but the videos, as with the featured websites, will switch out with some frequency.

Lastly, the thousands of reference interviews that we’ve conducted over the years have given us a pretty good idea of the sub-pages on our site that are most heavily used.  Links to those aspects of our site are now located prominently at the top of each of our redesigned pages, whereas some of the more ancillary content has been moved to the page footer.

Collections Pages

Another major component of the redesign project entailed an overhaul of our collections pages.  Our objective here was to redevelop each collection index page into something more than an access point to information, but rather for the page to stand as something close to a digital exhibit devoted to the creator of each collection.

As such, aside from improving the finding aids for many of our archival collections (and, in certain cases, creating finding aids where before there were none) each of the fully processed collections now boasts of a featured document and, whenever possible, a featured video.  Biographical timelines, improved administrative metadata and new illustrations complete the revamp.

The Fritz Marti Papers page is a good example of the striking difference between old and new.  Plans are in the works for Omeka-based biographical exhibits that will further expound upon the life work of Marti and many others whose papers reside in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.

The Fritz Marti Papers - retired design.

The Fritz Marti Papers - retired design.

The Fritz Marti Papers - new design.

The Fritz Marti Papers - new design.

Older Efforts

The launch of the 2009 redesign marks the fifth such release in the history of our department.  Here’s a look at the evolution of our homepage over the years.

OSU Libraries Special Collections homepage, August 1998.  Featuring rotating images and scrolling text.

OSU Libraries Special Collections homepage, August 1998. Featuring rotating images and scrolling text.

Special Collections homepage, July 2000.

Special Collections homepage, July 2000. Images and text still animated.

Special Collections homepage, July 2001.

Special Collections homepage, July 2001. First fully-static homepage.

The Pauling Electronegativity Scale: Part 1, Historical Background

Linus Pauling lecturing on Amedeo Avogadro, Rome, Italy, June 6, 1956

Linus Pauling lecturing on Amedeo Avogadro, Rome, Italy, June 6, 1956

The development of an accurate electronegativity scale was one of Linus Pauling’s many major contributions to the study of chemistry.  In this two part series, we’ll first look at the electronegativity research that preceded Pauling’s breakthrough, before analyzing the details of the scale that Pauling ultimately derived.

The concept of electronegativity is measured along a relative scale that compares the degree to which atoms of different elements tend to attract electrons from their surrounding environment. Because the electronegativity scale is a qualitative measurement – meaning that there is no measurable constant value for electronegativity – the scale itself has been both difficult and interesting to develop. The electronegativity scale we use today was formalized by Linus Pauling, and was first published in 1932. However, the idea of electronegativity existing between atoms was established well before Pauling, dating back to the early 1800s.

In 1809, Amedeo Avogadro published a paper connecting the correlations between the neutralization that occurs with acids and bases, and the neutralization that occurs between positive and negative electrical charges. Avogadro claimed that these cancellation relationships could be applied to all chemical interactions; between both simple substances and more complex compounds. From this, he proposed the creation of what he termed an “oxygenicity scale” on which every element could be placed – its location dependent upon the element’s tendency to react with other elements – in order to compare the properties of elements that had not yet been tested together.  This was, of course, the forerunner of the modern electronegativity scale.

To determine the relative “oxygenicity” values of elements, Avogadro relied upon contact electrification experiments published by two fellow scientific giants, Humphrey Davy and Alessandro Volta, as well as the work of a German-Danish researcher named Christian Heinrich Pfaff (pdf link).  These experiments found that when two bodies are electrified on contact, the potential between them becomes a value that can be measured.  These sets of values were, in turn, the units that Avogadro used to develop his oxygeniticity scale.

As it turned out, a significant problem with Avogadro’s method is that measures of contact electricity are very easily affected by outside factors, such as moisture or impurities.  As a result, Avogadro’s oxygenicity values turned out to be inconsistent and inaccurate.  Into this void stepped the important Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius.

Portrait of Jöns Jacob Berzelius.  Image courtesy of the Michigan State University department of Chemistry.

Portrait of Jöns Jacob Berzelius. Image courtesy of the Michigan State University department of Chemistry.

In 1811, Berzelius published an article detailing his own ideas on electrochemistry. He utilized much of the same groundwork as Avogadro, but, crucially, used the term “electronegativity” instead of “oxygenicity.”

Besides their names, a major difference between the two scales lies in their focus on heat evolution in chemical reactions – while Avogadro never mentions the concept, it is central to Berzelius’ theory, which, indeed, he presented as a new theory of chemical combustion. Berzelius assumed that both heat (or “caloric“, as it was conceived of at the time) and electricity were fluids.  As such, Berzelius attempted to connect heat to his electronegativity scale because he believed that caloric was created by the combination of negative and positive electricity.

Unfortunately for the theory, this assumed connection failed to account for half of all possible chemical reactions (endothermic association and exothermic dissociation), and was eventually discarded in favor of more modern views of the electronegativity scale. However, Berzelius did provide an almost-complete listing of his measured electronegativities, which coordinate remarkably well with both Pauling’s modern thermochemical definition as well as the current Allred-Rochow force definition. Berzelius’ electrochemical theory eventually failed despite its similarities with current systems because it could not account for increasingly complex organic molecules, and was incompatible with Michael Faraday‘s laws of electrolysis – laws that were already generally-accepted during his time.

Learn more about electronegativity on the website Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond, available at the Linus Pauling Online portal.  For more on the early history of electrochemistry, see Dr. Roderick MacKinnon’s lecture “Ion Channel Chemistry: The Electrical System of Life.”

2008: The Year in Pauling

Linus Pauling at his Deer Flat Ranch home, near Big Sur, California. 1987.

Linus Pauling at his Deer Flat Ranch home, near Big Sur, California. 1987.

Notable Projects and Events

This has been a terrifically-productive year for the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections:

Behind the Numbers

The various websites that we have launched over the years continue to attract a fairly large volume of traffic.   Over the past twelve months, our web domain has been the focus of 11.93 million pageviews. (A pageview being officially defined as “A request to the web server by a visitor’s browser for any web page; this excludes images, javascript, and other generally embedded file types.”)  This total is a marked decrease from the 2007 measurement of 14.7 million pageviews.  However, our new releases this year were more of a niche variety, whereas 2007 marked the launch of “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History,” as well as two additional new years of Day-by-Day content.  The difference in these types of projects help explain the downturn.

The largest source of 2008 traffic (4.48 million pageviews) is an oldie but a goody – Linus Pauling Research Notebooks.   Originally released in 2002 and consisting of well-over 15,000 html files, this cross-indexed digital version of Pauling’s 46 research notebooks has, by our count, generated roughly 39.5 million pageviews over the course of its existence.  The research notebooks site is also the only one of our many Pauling-centric projects to bubble up into the top 10 of Google’s results for the simple Linus Pauling keyword search. (not that we’re complaining, of course…)

Second in popularity is, per usual, the mammoth Linus Pauling Day-by-Day project (3.71 million), which currently provides a daily accounting of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s activities for the years 1930-1954.

Our four Documentary History websites jockey back and forth for third through sixth places.  Having received a big update in February, the Bond site is a clear favorite right now, though Blood will probably move up as well, having also been recently revised.  Here’s a look at how the numbers are shaking out for the major projects under the specialcollections/coll/pauling domain.


Check back on Friday for a few thoughts on search and a peek at 2009.

Pauling and Chomsky

Noam Chomsky in the original Special Collections reading room, Kerr Library, 1995.

Noam Chomsky in the original Special Collections reading room, Kerr Library, 1995.

The latest addition to the rapidly-expanding volume of transcribed video on the Special Collections website is a two-hour presentation by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dr. Noam Chomsky. Titled “Prospects for World Order,” Chomsky’s talk was delivered on the Oregon State University campus on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, October 24, 1995.

As is typical of the prolific and highly-controversial social critic, Chomsky’s presentation is a sprawling discourse filled with historical data points that jump all over the map (both figuratively and literally) in support of his central thesis – namely (in simplest terms) that the wealthy and powerful have become so largely by way of the often-ruthless exploitation of most of the world’s inhabitants. While many may object to various aspects of what Chomsky has to say, the talk undeniably provides a great deal of food for thought.

So what is the connection to Linus Pauling? Well, for starters, Chomsky was speaking as the fourteenth Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Lecturer for World Peace. Initiated in 1982 as a joint effort by Linus Pauling and the OSU College of Liberal Arts, the annual lecture was founded in memory of Ava Helen Pauling, whose peace work is well-documented on this blog and elsewhere. In 1995, the year of Chomsky’s presentation, the lecture was renamed to include Linus Pauling, who had died a little over one year before the event.

Flyer for a joint Chomsky-Pauling presentation, Montreal, 1967

Flyer for a joint Chomsky-Pauling presentation, Montreal, 1967.

Pauling and Chomsky also knew one another, if not particularly well. The Pauling Papers contain one letter from Chomsky and, as can be seen here, the two presented together at least once during the Vietnam War era.

Over twenty hours of fully-transcribed events videos – featuring, among others, Nobel Prize-winners Francis Crick, William Lipscomb, Dudley Herschbach and Roderick MacKinnon – have been released on the OSU Libraries Special Collections website since the beginning of 2008. Click here to access all of this intriguing content.

Roderick MacKinnon video now available

Fully-transcribed video of Dr. Roderick MacKinnon’s Linus Pauling Legacy Award Lecture is now available on the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections website. Titled “Ion Channel Chemistry: The Electrical System of Life,” MacKinnon’s talk was delivered in Portland on May 5, 2008.

Click here to view Dr. MacKinnon’s presentation

Roderick MacKinnon in lecture

Roderick MacKinnon in lecture

MacKinnon in lecture

MacKinnon in lecture

Now Playing On the Special Collections Website…

Francis Crick, 1995

In recent days, a large amount of great new content has been added to the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections website. Here are some of the highlights:

New Videos

First and foremost, almost nine hours of transcribed video from a major conference on the life and work of Linus Pauling has been added to our Special Events webpage. Unquestionably, one of the highlights of this new addition is a 50 minute-long talk by DNA co-discoverer and Nobel laureate Francis Crick, titled “The Impact of Linus Pauling on Molecular Biology.” Crick, who had occasion to interact with Pauling for over forty years, speaks eloquently of the huge advancements in biological studies that were such a vital part of Pauling’s multifaceted scientific career, and concludes that Pauling was, indeed, “one of the founders of molecular biology.”

Crick’s lecture was the first in a series of presentations given at the Pauling Symposium, titled “A Discourse on the Art of Biography,” and running for three days from February 28 – March 2, 1995. The gathering also featured what is surely the largest summit of Pauling biographers ever assembled. Intriguing talks by Thomas Hager, author of Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling and biographer Ted Goertzel, who revealed and analyzed the details of a Rorschach test taken by Pauling, are definitely worth viewing. Likewise, anyone interested in a nuanced examination of Pauling’s life story should view the presentation made by Robert Paradowski, who has spent the better part of thirty years composing a mammoth three-volume biography of Pauling that, to this day, remains unpublished.

A collection of Pauling’s former graduate students comprised the presenters for the conference’s third session. Speaking less than one year after Pauling’s death, the group shared many endearing stories mined from their long associations with the famous scientist. Famed biologist Matthew Meselson fondly recounted his deciding to pursue graduate studies at Caltech while immersed in the Pauling family swimming pool. Likewise, Nobel laureate chemist William Lipscomb passed along the details of Caltech Chemists baseball games in the Pasadena city league, noting for the record that he once “made the local newspaper for an unassisted triple play while playing center field.” The session was chaired by Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s youngest son Crellin, who took a few moments himself to reflect upon his experience of growing up with two world-famous parents.

The conference’s final session was devoted to a deeply-interesting discussion of the highs and lows encountered by writers of biography in attempting to capture an honest portrait of their subjects. Some of the history profession’s most important scholars, including Sarton Medal winners Frederic Lawrence Holmes and John L. Heilbron, revealed a number of lessons learned. In this vein, Judith Goodstein of the Caltech archives shared her thoughts on the particular issues surrounding the writing of an institutional history and S.S. Schweber provided a glimpse of the what it was like to wrestle with the remarkable life of Nobel physicist Hans Bethe.

Pauling Finding Aid

Another major addition to the resources available on the Special Collections website is the complete text of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers finding aid. Long-delayed due to technical issues, a web version of the massive document — nearly 1,700 pages long when printed out — is now finally available, in full, on the web. Users now have access to listings for all of Pauling’s speeches, his article manuscripts, materials related to his unpublished books, and much, much more.

Coming Soon…

Keep watching the Special Events page for new video updates. Transcribed video of the 2008 Pauling Legacy Award lecture by Dr. Roderick MacKinnon is nearly ready to post, as are several additional presentations by a wide variety of highly-esteemed speakers. We are also preparing a major update to the Linus Pauling Day-by-Day calendar that will incorporate not only a large amount of new content, but also several exciting new features. Stay tuned…

Scenes from the Linus Pauling Legacy Award Lecture

MacKinnon in lecture

MacKinnon in lecture.

A large and enthusiastic crowd convened at the Hilton Portland and Executive Tower last night to participate in the Linus Pauling Legacy Award ceremonies.

Roderick MacKinnon in lecture

Roderick MacKinnon delivering the 2008 Pauling Legacy Award Lecture.

The recipient of the 2008 Pauling Legacy Award, Dr. Roderick MacKinnon of the Rockefeller University, delighted his audience with an engaging talk on the history, evolution and future promise of research on the crucial role that electrical signals play in the proper functioning of the human body. A few images from the evening are included below — click on any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution view. (All images courtesy of John Schiffhauer)

MacKinnon and Richard Goodman

MacKinnon and Dr. Richard Goodman, Director of the Vollum Institute, Oregon Health Sciences University.

The Rays and Linus Pauling, jr.

Oregon State University President Dr. Edward Ray, OSU First Lady Beth Ray and Dr. Linus Pauling, Jr.

Roderick MacKinnon and Eric Gouaux

MacKinnon and Dr. Eric Gouaux of the Vollum Institute, Oregon Health Sciences University. MacKinnon and Gouaux co-authored a 2005 paper on ion transport across cell membranes.