A Return to Scientific Theory


[Part 6 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

One of Linus Pauling’s hopes during his time at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) was to collaborate with neighboring institutions, such as branches of the University of California, and perform scientific research while contributing to the Center’s discussions on world peace. Pauling joined the Center because he believed that science should be used to address social issues and to offer solutions to the problems facing society. Pauling was optimistic of the support and independence that he would enjoy at the Center in support of his ambitions. Upon their arrival to Santa Barbara, however, Ava Helen Pauling expressed the fear that her husband might find the CSDI “too superficial.”

Ava Helen’s prediction, as it turned out, was basically correct, and more and more her husband found himself disappointed by his inability to progress his scientific research. Originally he had hoped to use the scientific method to tackle world affairs but, as he soon realized, the Center preferred to focus on appeals to the public rather than programs of research. His options for joining neighboring institutions to perform scientific work were also quite limited. Importantly, the University of California rejected Pauling’s application for an adjunct position at UC Santa Barbara because of his controversial politics. By August 1965, only two years after being hired by the CSDI and just one year after moving to Santa Barbara, Pauling was writing letters to the Center’s president, Robert Hutchins, asking to spend less time at CSDI headquarters so that he might advance his scientific work from a new base – the Pauling ranch at Big Sur.

Figure from "The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission," Science, October 1965.

Figure from “The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission,” Science, October 1965.

Pauling spent much of his time away from Santa Barbara developing a new model of the atom, which he called the close-packed-spheron model of atomic nuclei. This theory of nuclear structure was published in four different articles (“Structural significance of the principal quantum number of nucleonic orbital wave functions,” Phys. Rev. Lett., September 1965; “Structural basis of neutron and proton magic numbers in atomic nuclei,” Nature, October 1965; “The close-packed-spheron model of atomic nuclei and its relation to the shell model,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., October 1965; and “The close-packed-spheron theory and nuclear fission,” Science, October 1965) each of which addressed different implications of the theory.

Pauling’s work dealt with “magic numbers” and nuclear subshells. Previously it was known that magic numbers describe the quantity of protons and neutrons that make an atom particularly stable. Pauling’s theory, however, suggests that the “magic” qualities associated with these numbers of nuclear components corresponds to the filling of nuclear “spherons,” or nuclear sub-units where protons and neutrons are arranged. (These spherons or sub-units were also referred to as shells in previous theories.) The close-packed theory therefore suggests that nuclear components form clusters rather than arranging as independent particles.

The close-packed-spheron model was based on the earlier nuclear shell theory. Pauling took the nuclear shell theory a step further by attempting to explain why specific numbers of protons and neutrons cause greater nuclear stability. The close-packed-spheron model states that the lower magic numbers represent atoms in which the first or second nuclear shells are filled, and that higher magic numbers correspond to a special “mantle” shell; that is, a hybridized shell that can form if greater amounts of nuclear components arrange into spheres.

In developing his model, Pauling was trying to explain the arrangement of nuclear components by simplifying previous theories and applying the principles of electron orbitals to protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus. Pauling’s past work had helped to establish the principles of electron orbital hybridization, and he hoped that this new work would yield similar fruit for the atomic nucleus. If such were the case, it would then be possible to explain the stability of atoms with magic numbers and the geometric arrangement of protons and neutrons.

Pauling’s close-packed theory was interesting and relatively simple; however, it failed to spark interest among many other scientists. For the next several years, Pauling continued to advocate for the theory and, in June 1974, he applied for a National Science Foundation grant to support further theoretical research on the structure of atomic nuclei. The application was denied and Pauling turned his attentions elsewhere.


The development of the close-packed-spheron theory and the lack of attention that it received from the scientific community are emblematic of the difficulties that Pauling experienced during his affiliation with the CSDI. The limited resources available to Pauling during this time enabled only theoretical investigations on subjects with which he was already at least somewhat familiar. And his official connection with an institution that existed well out of the scientific mainstream stifled his ability to engage with his scientific peers on a regular basis.

Pauling was only at the CSDI until 1967, and towards the end of his tenure there his eagerness to return to the sciences only grew. Other publications from the period focused on molecular protein structure and the chemical bond. As with the structure of atomic nuclei, these topics were, again, among those that he had researched prior to moving to Santa Barbara.  Once he found a new scientific home, the University of California at San Diego, Pauling began new investigations in medical chemistry which ultimately led to his famous fascination with vitamin C.

Pauling’s switch to a scientific focus could be interpreted as stemming from a waning interest in world affairs, but his papers show that it was the limitations that he encountered at the CSDI that led him to return to more scientific pursuits. World affairs remained central to Pauling’s activities and continued to lay claim to large pieces of his time, especially as the war in Vietnam escalated throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pauling was interested in developing ideas that could lead the world towards peace, while the Center was primarily a think tank that often focused more on discussion rather than reaching conclusions. In the end, superficial or not, the CSDI simply was not the institution for Linus Pauling.


A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects



[Part 5 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling is often remembered for his achievements in chemistry and his active involvement in the peace movement. Much of his work stemmed from an interest in further understanding the natural world and using this knowledge to promote the well-being of others.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise that, during his stint at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI), he considered taking time to research unidentified flying objects. The phenomenon would seem like an unusual subject for Pauling to study, especially because he joined the CSDI in hopes of focusing on medical chemistry and socio-economic theory. In July 1966, however, Pauling did indeed write a project proposal outlining a program of research on unidentified flying objects.


Pauling’s UFO project proposal, pg. 1. July 1966.


UFO proposal, pg. 2.


In discussing this moment in Pauling’s career, it is important to point out that Pauling viewed the study as a “possibility,” rather than anything close to an immediate priority. One hastens to add as well that the study was not ever conducted.  The proposal document that he crafted, however, is evidence of the approach that Pauling would have taken to explain the phenomenon, and it is an interesting document to explore.

As a scientist and citizen, Pauling believed that it was his duty to inform the public about advances in scientific understanding, but slowly, by dint of his institutional arrangement, he found himself growing gradually more distant from the scientific community. After publishing a few papers on nuclear physics and medical chemistry, and engaging in much discussion on world peace, Pauling found himself in a difficult situation: just a couple years after leaving Caltech, his home base for forty-one years, he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the CSDI.

The center’s lack of capacity to support scientific research, combined with the paucity of conclusions emerging from the center’s peace discussions, gradually increased Pauling’s appetite for new exploration. The scientific research that he could do on his own, without facilities or funding, was very limited. And in terms of politics and peace, the center was mostly engaged in theory; there was no specific cause for which it was fighting. And so it was that Pauling spent some time at his ranch in Big Sur brainstorming ideas on what to do with his time; researching UFOs was perhaps the most unorthodox notion to emerge from this period of reflection.

Linus Pauling, 1966.

Linus Pauling, 1966.

Pauling was quite familiar with reports of unidentified flying objects.  Scattered among the many letters that he received each day were a handful asking questions about strange noises in the night and films of white dust appearing in the hills. He also heard rumors about a UFO landing in Santa Fe. Being a long-running fan of science fiction himself, and feeling a duty to communicate scientific knowledge to the public, it is easy to see how Pauling could find importance in addressing the matter in a formal way.

Pauling’s 1966 research proposal, titled “A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects,” was divided into twelve main points. In each point, Pauling stated his intent to study everything from the authenticity and potential explanations of various reports, to the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin of human life. The proposal’s twelve points are suggestive of an ambitious project that would have required Pauling to tap into the fields of evolutionary biology, psychology and history, among others. But it is clear that Pauling’s intent for his study of UFOs was not to perform a scientific investigation of the phenomenon, but to discern and provide facts regarding reports of sightings and ideas about extraterrestrial interactions with human beings.

Pauling’s interest in the subject was not limited to the 1966 proposal. As late as 1968, Pauling wrote to Stirling Colgate, a physicist who was then President of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and inquired into an alleged siting of a flying saucer on the school’s campus. The correspondence reveals that the siting was a hoax, perpetrated by a New Mexico Tech student, but Pauling’s interest is indication that UFOs remained on his mind at least a couple of years after he drafted his proposal document.

It can be argued that Pauling’s seemingly abrupt interest in UFOs was an outgrowth of his experience at the CSDI. For much of his time at the center, it is clear that he was engaged in an intellectual quest to discover a way to use his talents for the benefit of the public. To his dissatisfaction, Pauling was unable to find exactly what he was looking for in Santa Barbara, and after three and a half years there, he began actively seeking out a new institutional home.

The time period, however, also stands as evidence of Pauling’s creativity in working in an environment with limited resources.  Though the UFO work never got off the ground, Pauling continued to pick up his pencil and slide rule and to research the natural world to the best of his abilities.  As a result, several publications resulted from this period of quiet investigation spent far afield from the scientific mainstream.

The Triple Revolution

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to "The Triple Revolution" memorandum, March 22, 1964.

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to “The Triple Revolution” memorandum, March 22, 1964.

[Part 4 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling’s connection with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) began before he and his wife moved to Santa Barbara. While in Pasadena, Pauling joined a group of social activists that called itself “The Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution.” Working under the auspices of the CSDI, the Ad Hoc Committee worked together to draft a memorandum addressed to President Lyndon B. Johnson and titled “The Triple Revolution.”

The memorandum was in turn circulated to select individuals and ultimately signed by thirty-five men, a collection of academics, journalists and left activists.  Noteworthy among these signatories were James Boggs, an auto worker and author of Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook; Todd Gitlin, President of Students for a Democratic Society; retired Brigadier General Hugh B. Hester; Gerard Piel, publisher of Scientific American; Bayard Rustin of the War Resisters League; and socialist leader Norman Thomas.  Also included were Linus Pauling and W.H. “Ping” Ferry, vice-president of the CSDI.

Linus Pauling, 1964.

Linus Pauling, 1964.

Submitted in March 1964, “The Triple Revolution” opens with a letter to the president in which the Ad Hoc Committee states its concern that Americans and their leaders are “unaware of the magnitude and acceleration of the changes going on around them.” The letter was signed by each of the committee members and was later published in pamphlet form alongside the main text of the “The Triple Revolution” memorandum.

“The Triple Revolution” states that three main socio-economic revolutions were occurring during the 1960s: the Weaponry Revolution, the Cybernation Revolution, and a Human Rights Revolution comprising civil rights movements all around the world. The piece also suggests that all three revolutions were the result of technological development and changes in the economy.

The Weaponry Revolution speaks to one of Linus Pauling’s greatest hopes: the end of war as a means of conflict resolution. In proposing that a weaponry revolution was in place, the memorandum elaborates on the topics of nuclear warfare and disarmament. The pamphlet suggests – as Pauling had often done before – that the threat of such weapons should steer nations to end the use of war altogether in order to avoid the destruction of modern civilization. While acknowledging the degree of difficulty of this undertaking, “The Triple Revolution” nevertheless holds on to the idea of a “warless world,” stating that it is a need acknowledged by most people.

The memorandum also suggests that a Cybernation Revolution was underway, meaning that the use of machines was slowly changing the roles assumed by people in the economy and society. The Ad Hoc Committee was concerned that those without the wealth to purchase or develop machines would be left without the opportunity to earn a living, should the economy switch to a purely machine-based means of production.

The members of the committee also believed that the Cybernation Revolution would cause an unequal distribution of wealth which would eventually lead to an unsustainable national economy. And, indeed, one of the proposals put forth in “The Triple Revolution” is an equal distribution of wealth, carried out as a necessary action to prevent future economic instability. The memorandum encourages the development of an economic system that compensates those who do not own machines and do not have access to the means of production; a concept the document refers to as “the right to an income.” The Ad Hoc Committee believed that groups like African Americans in the early 1960s existed in a social and legal situation that prevented them from owning machines, limiting their opportunities for economic development.

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee believed that, by the 1960s, societies around the world needed to recognize the dignity of each individual. The group likewise believed that the civil rights movement in the United States was only a local manifestation of a world-wide trend to reform political systems such that individuals could not be excluded on account of their race. “The Triple Revolution” thus describes the civil rights movement in the United States existing as part of a broader Human Right Revolution in place at the time.

The document suggests that the U.S. government had the power to lead American society through the changes being ushered in by the triple revolution, primarily by decreasing the amount of resources and attention given to military endeavors and increasing the attention given to those who are at a social disadvantage. The pamphlet concludes by stating that failure to seek solutions to the issues that arise when human labor is replaced by machines would exacerbate social inequality and lead to “misery and chaos.” But so too did it remain hopeful that, given proper leadership, societies could overcome the challenges presented by the changes of the 1960s.


Louisville Courier-Journal, March 23, 1964.

In presenting “The Triple Revolution” to the federal government, the Ad Hoc Committee identified itself as a group of concerned citizens. And though the text made sure to include the government in its suggestions for the future, the document was considered by many to be radically anti-government, and by some to be anti-American. In particular, many who opposed the views presented in “The Triple Revolution” worried about its apparent lack of appreciation for the military, as indicated by the pamphlet’s recommendations that resources used for military efforts be limited.  Media pundits were also quick to disparage the idea of a guaranteed income and its implications of creeping socialism.

Two weeks after receiving the document, the White House issued a short response to “The Triple Revolution,” stating that the President had taken measures to address the problems identified in the memorandum. The letter is signed by Assistant Special Counsel to the President Lee C. White, who is remembered for having advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights strategies. For the most part, the response uses general statements and examples as evidence that President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was considering the issues brought up by the memorandum. It is unclear whether Johnson ever read or even received the document personally.

Despite media opposition to the document and its quick dismissal by the government, other peace activists shared many of the views expressed in “The Triple Revolution.” One group, Women Strike for Peace – an organization in which Ava Helen Pauling was especially active – expressed many of the same views on world affairs when it organized a demonstration outside the Peace Palace at The Hague in 1964. Through their activism and intellectual product, the Ad Hoc Committee and Women Strike for Peace alike were issuing a demand that social inequalities be resolved both for the benefit of individual societies and also as a step toward international peace.

Pacem in Terris


[Part 3 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

On April 11, 1963, in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, Pope John XXIII (now a canonized saint of the Catholic Church) issued a papal encyclical, Pacem in Terris. The statement was an exhortation that the Catholic faithful of the world and “all men of good will” seek peace, a concept which the Pope defined as the divinely ordained order of the world. “The world’s Creator,” Pope John wrote, “has stamped man’s inmost being with an order revealed to man by his conscience and led the consciousness of all societies to prefer peace over war.”

In February 1965, nearly two years after the encyclical was issued, religious, political and social leaders from the world over were called to New York City by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) for a meeting titled “The Convocation on the Requirements of Peace.” The Center’s main goal for this convocation was to establish a series of concrete steps by which the ideas set forth in Pacem in Terris could be applied to the secular world. The convocation was led by CSDI president Robert Hutchins who established the central question that participants were asked to answer: “If the principles in Pacem in Terris are sound, how can they be carried out in the world as it is?”

At the time of the convocation, Linus Pauling was working with the CSDI and his professional energies were primarily centered on world peace. Not surprisingly, Pauling was sent to the conference as a representative of the CSDI. Pacem in Terris was in many ways a fitting document for Pauling to work with; its peace-seeking ideals and calls for social justice seemed to echo the message that he himself had shared in his 1963 Nobel address. Though not a religious man himself, Pauling had an interest in attempting to make the Pope’s message available to a broader audience, as its ideas so closely reflected many of his own.

Pope John Paul XXIII

Pope John XXIII

The Papal encyclical was based on ideals of human dignity and political justice, both of which John XXIII defined in the document. Human dignity, he stated, is founded on the principle that each individual “is truly a person” with the inalienable rights to intelligence and the exertion of free will, so long as the individual fulfills their duty to respect these same rights in others. In discussing political justice, the Pope suggested that a state must satisfy its needs and the needs of its people while recognizing that doing so should not be pursued in such a way as would hinder the rights of other nations.

Furthermore, John XXIII suggested that international conflicts must “be settled in a truly human way, not by armed force or by deceit or trickery.” He also stated that “there must be a mutual assessment of the arguments and feelings on both sides of an argument, a mature and objective investigation of the situation, and an equitable reconciliation of opposing views” in order to maintain political justice and human dignity in conflict resolution. This call for war-free conflict resolution was what inspired the CSDI to organize the Convocation on the Requirements of Peace.

Some of Pauling's notes from the 1965 convocation.

Some of Pauling’s notes from the 1965 convocation.

Pauling’s fame as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize afforded him a slot among the main speakers at the meeting. And as with the Pope’s message from two years earlier, Pauling’s contributions to the gathering also focused on the ideals of political justice and human dignity. Pauling’s discourse was appropriately titled “Peace on Earth,” and explained his vision of John XXIII’s encyclical as it applied to the secular world. Pauling and the Pope agreed in many ways – each believed in an end to warfare, and that countries should be guaranteed equal rights and advantages during a dispute.

Pauling and John XXIII also believed that conflicts could be ameliorated by the action of an international authority, but the two held radically different views concerning the shape that this authority would assume. Where Pauling proposed that a world government could and should fill this position, John XXIII believed that submission to the authority of God would lead individuals to discover a life in which their more violent or aggressive tendencies would be calmed and controlled. John XXIII’s views on the authority of God were, of course, appropriate for his position as Pope, but were more difficult to accept for a non-Christian mindset. Pauling, an atheist since he was a boy, took the Convocation as an opportunity to place his own views on authority and politics within other propositions for avenues to achieve world peace.

While Pauling’s speech was successful in presenting the Pope’s ideas to broader audiences, it also elaborated on a variety of additional issues, such as the problem of evil. “Peace on Earth” takes time to address the suffering of innocent people and in this it establishes that evil is real for people of all backgrounds and that the experience of evil is, in itself, a reason to fight for peace. Pauling further suggested that, although suffering is an intangible reality, he could show that it exists simply by noting the common expressions that manifest these realities: “when I am pricked I bleed, as do other men; when I am tickled I laugh, when I am poisoned I die.”

Pauling believed that while nature can cause people to suffer, human intelligence can ameliorate the “injustices of nature,” and he extended this thought to a discussion of nuclear warfare. By 1965, Pauling had begun to feel that the specter of nuclear holocaust would not continue to be an issue – the certainty of human extinction had rendered nuclear war an irrational option for the world’s governments. Pauling also believed, rather optimistically, that humankind had reached the point to where it was ready for the development of a rational and moral alternative to war.

Correspondence from numerous observers who wrote in after the meeting had concluded suggests that Pauling and the other conference participants had satisfied Hutchins’ mandate. The conference had developed mechanisms for carrying out the principles of Pacem in Terris in the world of 1965, principles that made sense to a wide variety of interested individuals. The letters further point out that media from around the country had taken note of the discussions held at the convocation and that Pauling’s discourse was particularly impactful. Though only part of a much larger conversation, the Convocation on the Requirements of Peace helped to propel the discussion of what peace actually meant some two decades into the atomic age.

CSDI: A Platform for Action Merging Science and Peace

The Pauling family assembled prior to Linus Pauling's Nobel Peace lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1963.

The Pauling family assembled prior to Linus Pauling’s Nobel Peace lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1963.

[Part 2 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling spent forty-two years of his career at the California Institute of Technology.  His tenure at Caltech was the stuff of legend, a time period during which he inspired students and colleagues alike as he carried out a significant portion of the work that made him famous and led to his receipt of the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Pauling’s decision to leave Caltech and continue his work at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara, California meant not only a change in the location of his research but also in its entire dynamic. For the most part, the CSDI was a think tank of sorts, focused primarily on the intellectual study of political and social issues. Pauling joined the center buoyed by the hope that he might continue his scientific studies and experimentation as an adjunct at nearby universities. On the same token, his new home base at the CSDI would provide the opportunity for Pauling to contribute to discussions on world affairs, democracy and world peace in an atmosphere free from the suspicion and hostility that continued to define Cold War America.

Pauling was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, the year that he decided to join the CSDI. His passion for peace work and the support extended to him by the center’s president, Robert Hutchins, had attracted Pauling to the center.  His first objective as a newcomer was to continue exploring and pursuing the goals and ideals expressed in his Nobel lecture, “Science and Peace,” delivered in Oslo on December 10th.

In that lecture, Pauling expressed his feeling that scientists, through their technical contributions, were in part responsible for the horrors of nuclear warfare. But he also strongly affirmed his long-standing notion that the scientific community and its product should act as a forceful leader in bringing the world to a period of peace; a period “where no greater nor more destructive weapons can be discovered, leading countries to realize that matters should not be solved by war or force but by a world law.”

“Science and Peace” notes that even before the first nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a committee of atomic scientists had been urging the U.S. Secretary of War to refrain from using atomic bombs in surprise attacks. Actions of this sort were in line with what Pauling envisioned the completed work of a scientist to be.  Pauling felt that the scientist was not only meant to play a role in scientific development but was also to serve as a public citizen.  In other words, scientists bore an obligation to used their informed voices as a tool to help educated and guide others in the real world application of scientific developments, particularly including technologies of warfare.

The social and political activism that helped to define Pauling’s career from the mid-1940s on is clear evidence of his striving to live by this ideal. While the CSDI would require him to leave his nicely appointed laboratory in Pasadena, it would give him the chance to further his work as a “complete scientist” enabled to inform the public about science’s role in social issues.

Pauling's Nobel lecture, as published by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture, as published by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

As he spent more time thinking and researching, Pauling developed many ideas concerning the achievement of world peace. Seemingly among his more radical positions – though one shared by many others of his era – was the notion that peace could be achieved by implementation of a world democratic law. By “world law,” Pauling and other proponents meant an institution and legal system empowered with the authority to moderate between countries during times of conflict.

An arrangement of this sort was seen as one that would maintain the sovereignty of all nations while providing a higher authority with the tool kit to prevent war. A world law would thus be comprised of a set of international agreements enforced by an international institution. These agreements, Pauling believed, should further be set up to provide separate voices for national governments and their people.  Doing so would allow for peaceful resolution of disputes both within and between nations.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture likewise suggests that a world government, formed by representatives of both governments and their people, could even put an end to dictatorships through its specific representation of the world’s governments and the world’s populations. Pauling believed that it was essential to simultaneously ensure the rights of independent governments and to protect the voices of the people.  Failure to do so would inevitably lead to human suffering, be it through violent revolution or iron-fisted dictatorship.

In effect, what Pauling was proposing was that the United Nations, or an entity like it, become a far more powerful institution. That it become a democratic institution for the world, working to guarantee the citizens of all nations a voice in important affairs while maintaining the sovereignty of individual governments. In “Science and Peace” Pauling recognized that his knowledge of the current law was far from complete. But he did not cease to develop and promote the idea of a democratic world law, a vision also supported at CSDI by Robert Hutchins.

Pauling was one of the most notable advocates for the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and saw its signing in 1963 as a first step to the creation of a world law.  The treaty, afterall, was an international agreement that protected participating countries from the dangers of radioactive waste by banning nuclear testing in the Earth’s oceans, land and atmosphere. Pauling’s vision of world government was seconded by peace advocates around the world and formed an important component of his research agenda at the CSDI.

The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions

Pauling at his living room press conference, October 1963. Image credit: James McClanahan.

Pauling at his living room press conference, October 1963. Image credit: James McClanahan.

[Ed Note: This is part one of a six-post series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.]

In October 1963, just after it was announced that Linus Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, a press conference was held in the living room of the Paulings’ home. Pauling naturally spoke of his happiness with the Nobel committee’s announcement but he also caught the media’s attention with some news of his own: he intended to take a leave of absence from the California Institute of Technology in order to resume his work in science, peace and medicine at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara, California.

The news came as a shock to most of his colleagues who were unaware of Pauling’s decision to leave after more than four decades of historic achievement at Caltech. By the time of his announcement however, Pauling had already arranged for the research currently under his supervision to continue until completion while he was in absentia.  And though he didn’t come right out and say it, Pauling’s leave of absence effectively marked his resignation from Caltech.

Pauling’s decision was radical not only because he was leaving the institution where he had worked for forty-one years, but also because the CSDI was a completely different institution. Where some, like Pauling’s biographer Thomas Hager, could describe Caltech as “a monastery devoted to science,” the CSDI was, in the words of the center’s director Robert Hutchins, an “educational enterprise established by the Fund for the Republic to promote the principles of individual liberty expressed in the Declaration of independence and the Constitution of the United States.” Indeed, the CSDI was essentially a think tank that sought to study the effects of democracy and constitutional rights on modern institutions such as corporations and labor unions – a far cry from the hard science that Pauling was used to at Caltech.

Pauling hoped that his time at the CSDI it would enable his collaboration with neighboring institutions, such as the University of California schools, to perform scientific research, while simultaneously contributing to the development of ideas on world peace at the center. Pauling joined the center because he believed that science should be used to address social issues and to offer solutions to the problems facing society.

In the letter of resignation that he wrote to the leaders of the California Institute of Technology, he expressed his desire to continue his work at the CSDI because he wished to incorporate world affairs into his study of science and medicine. In this, Pauling was illustrating the degree to which he was prioritizing world affairs at this point in his life. In a letter to James Higgins, however, Ava Helen Pauling expressed concern that her husband would find the CSDI “too superficial,” a statement that would prove prophetic.

"Pauling & Peace: Questions Linger," Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17, 1963.

Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17, 1963.

In his fight against the use and propagation of nuclear weapons, Pauling became one of the world’s most prominent advocates for the test ban treaty that was ultimately signed by the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union in 1963. The treaty limited its scope to banning nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space and under water, but nonetheless marked a major turning point in the short history of the nuclear age.

Pauling was roundly criticized for his activism against nuclear testing.  Many saw his efforts as hindering the strength and effectiveness of the U.S. military. In a 1960 article published by the Arcadia (California) Tribune, Pauling was introduced as a professor at Caltech and then accused of being an un-American communist. This example was only one of many instances in which Pauling’s professional life and the institution for which he worked for were placed in an unflattering light due to resistance to his personal views on world affairs.  Trustees at Caltech took note, and as Pauling’s prominence grew, his relationship with the Caltech power structure steadily eroded.

Though Pauling obviously enjoyed a wide range of supporters as well – including the Nobel committee -media criticism, especially in the U.S., continued to intensify with the increased attention brought about by his award.

On December 17, 1963, just days after Pauling was awarded the Nobel medal, The Wall Street Journal questioned the committee’s understanding of Pauling’s views in an article titled “Pauling and Peace: Questions Linger.” The opinion piece suggested that the Nobel selectors had overlooked the significance and need for the threat of war in stopping “the cold blooded calculations of dictators like Khrushchev and Mao Tse-Tung” and that this was reason enough for “the vast majority of the American people” not to hail their compatriot for having been awarded a second Nobel Prize.

Robert Hutchins.

Robert Hutchins

At the time that Pauling received the Nobel Peace Prize, the most welcoming and supporting environment for his work seemed to be the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. In a letter to Pauling dated October 17, 1963, Robert Hutchins, the center’s head and a past president of the University of Chicago, gave Pauling his full support and noted how closely aligned their views and goals were, so much so that their most recent publications had similar titles. Hutchins saw in Pauling a potential candidate to take over the center’s program of research in medicine, which was still in its nascent form at the CSDI, to say nothing of the added impact that his mere presence would immediately make upon the center’s profile.

In Pauling’s statement to the press concerning his move to the CSDI, he expressed excitement at the idea of working in an environment where he was already familiar with many of his new colleagues and could more freely choose which areas to focus his studies. Indeed, “increased freedom of action” was one of the main points of emphasis in his statement. It would seem then, that the two main reasons why Pauling was specifically attracted to the CSDI were the freedom to focus on the relationship between peace and science, and the support that he was receiving from his colleagues at the Center. With the CSDI, Pauling hoped to link his ongoing research in science, peace and medicine to the larger issues facing the political systems and social institutions of his time.

Despite the benefits and possibilities that the Center seemed to promise, Pauling knew that his work would, by necessity, become increasingly theoretical rather than experimental. Back at Caltech, Pauling’s many years of research, experimentation and funding had allowed him to amass important, and expensive, apparatus for his laboratory. The CSDI, on the other hand, had hardly even dealt with the sciences and its research in medicine had not yet included any experimental work. While trading Caltech for the CSDI was not the most expedient move for Pauling’s scientific work, it did seem to give him the freedom to focus on the matters that he valued the most during this period of his life. And so it was that, in the 1964, Pauling ventured into uncharted waters.

Lawrence Badash, 1934-2010

Lawrence Badash speaking at the 2007 Pauling conference held at Oregon State University.

We were very sorry to learn of the death of Dr. Lawrence Badash, professor emeritus in the history of science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Dr. Badash died on August 23, 2010 after a short bout with cancer.

It was our good fortune to work with Dr. Badash on a handful of occasions.  Most recently he participated in our 2007 conference “The Scientist as Educator and Public Citizen: Linus Pauling and His Era,” held in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling’s publication of the seminal text General Chemistry.  Badash’s contribution to the proceedings was a typically thoughtful and intriguing talk titled “Science in the McCarthy Period: Training Ground for Scientists as Public Citizens.”  In it, he argued that

Demagoguery functions much like a preemptive strike: ‘Flag wavers’ paint those who may be effective opponents as unpatriotic. This occurred during the period 1945-1960, as Joseph McCarthy and others stirred fears of Communist influence in the United States. At first lauded for their creation of the atomic bomb and other World War II activities, scientists increasingly were criticized for their international orientation and left-leaning politics. American scientists were sometimes denied passports, foreign scientists were often deprived of visas, barriers were erected to prevent the exchange of information, jobs were lost. But scientists fought back, occasionally changing policy or at least embarrassing officialdom. Such efforts reinvigorated a flagging sense of the need for political participation among scientists.

Several years before the 2007 conference, Badash conducted extensive research in the Personal Safe series of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers.  Badash was specifically interested in investigating the near-appointment of Linus Pauling at UC-Santa Barbara in 1964.

As published in Physics in Perspective 11 (2009): 4-14, Badash found that Pauling himself actively solicited an appointment at UCSB.  Having left the California Institute of Technology following the organization’s chilly reaction to Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, and dissatisfied with the resources available to him at his next stop, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Pauling began looking toward UCSB, which was located not far away from the CSDI.

Pauling’s offer was to work without salary, (Xerox inventor and Caltech physics alum Chester Carlson had agreed to provide financial support for Pauling’s work) spending three-quarters of his time on scientific matters and one-quarter on “peace work.”  He would occupy an office at Santa Barbara and act as “essentially a full-time Professor of Chemistry…. but not present any regular courses of lectures.”

This offer was met with resistance from UCSB Chancellor Vernon Cheadle, who did not inform the university’s chemistry faculty of Pauling’s proposal and ultimately refused to even file the paperwork necessary for the offer to come under preliminary review by the University of California.   Though the era of McCarthy had passed by 1964, fears of controversial individuals with supposedly radical ties were still heavily prevalent in certain circles.  Badash notes

Throughout 1964, minutes of meetings of the UC Regents contain a number of references to academic freedom, while urging that speakers at the university be acceptable.  Clearly, the board was uncomfortable having Communists speak on campuses.  Ronald Reagan, who would run for governor in 1966, was making a name for himself condemning the recklessness of the free-speech movement and, by implication, the Regents.

Pauling fought for an appointment for nearly a year, even appealing to then-Governor Pat Brown to intercede on his behalf.  His pleas fell upon deaf ears though – in this climate, there would be no position at Santa Barbara.

One year later, however, Pauling did find an advocate in chemist Joseph E. Mayer, who invited the double Nobel laureate to join the staff of a different UC school – the University of California, San Diego.  Backed by signed petitions submitted by the university’s departments of chemistry, physics and biology, Pauling was appointed professor in residence and research chemist beginning July 1, 1967.  He would stay at UCSD for two years, before resigning in protest of Governor Reagan’s educational policies and moving on to Stanford.

Badash saw UC-Santa Barbara’s failure to hire Pauling as a “bungled opportunity.”  In concluding his 2009 article he suggests

Since UCSD was able to appoint Pauling for at least the first year, without needing regential approval, UCSB must have had the same authority.  Chancellor Vernon Cheadle may not have wished to exercise that authority, or, more likely, the idea of a one-year appointment was not raised in 1964.  Both UCSB and UCSD were relatively new campuses, with chancellors who were sensitive to the political climate in the state and especially among the Regents.  As might be expected, on both campuses the faculty members seemed more concerned with the quality of their departments.  Some faculty, recalling that period, felt that Pauling was a disruptive person who would not necessarily have been a good colleague.  Yet, his presence would instantly have raised the UCSB Department of Chemistry’s stature, then and now the bottom line.

Lawrence Badash’s papers have been deposited with the UC-Santa Barbara Special Collections.  The finding aid is available here.  An excellent obituary published by the Santa Barbara Independent is also online.

Linus Pauling and the Search for UFOs

Linus Pauling, 1983.

Upon Linus Pauling’s death, the OSU Libraries Special Collections received approximately 500,000 of his and his wife’s personal items. Of this half-million item collection, a significant portion is comprised of his personal books which range from heavily academic texts to science fiction and murder mysteries. Amid the shelves of chemistry texts and genre fiction, however, there is a small subsection of books that has been known to draw attention from the Special Collections staff: the conspiracy texts.

As evidenced by his lifelong devotion to scientific discovery, Linus Pauling possessed a deep interest in mystery and the unknown. It seems that, while most of his research revolved around academically sanctioned scientific problems, he occasionally spent his free time exploring more unorthodox subjects. As he aged and his devotion to pure science was tempered by his growing sense of social responsibility, Pauling began to expand his interests and become engaged in issues he had previously ignored.

Beginning in 1963, Pauling took a position as fellow of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a think tank founded by Robert M. Hutchins as a part of the Fund for the Republic. The Center was known for its unusual and sometimes controversial activities, including proposing a new constitution for the United States and promoting radical political movements among students. For the first time in forty years, Pauling’s primary work had stepped out of the bounds of research-based science. The atmosphere at the Center allowed him to explore problems that his fellow scientists might have considered, at best, unorthodox.

His interest in cover-ups and clandestine activity appears to have begun in the same way it did for many other Americans–with the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy. During the Cold War, Pauling had met and corresponded with Kennedy regarding peace and nuclear disarmament. While the two men did not always agree on matters of foreign policy, Pauling had a great deal of respect for the President and was shaken by his death. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Pauling began reading accounts of the event, taking a marked interest in the numerous conspiracy theories of the day. He followed the subject with some interest through the 1980s, building up a small collection of materials on the “magic bullet” and “multiple shooters” theories. [For more on Pauling’s interactions with President Kennedy, see our earlier blog post on the subject.]

The JFK assassination had introduced Pauling to a whole new series of problems, where scientific fact could only go so far and the pitfalls of hoax and disinformation had to be carefully navigated. For years, he had played the role of the armchair gumshoe, reading countless murder mysteries, picking out clues and racing the protagonist to the revelation. As tragic as it was, the assassination had given Pauling a chance to apply his talents as an investigator to a problem beyond the sciences. The world of conspiracy and intrigue held an allure for Pauling that he could not deny.

In the mid-1960s, Pauling began to take an interest in UFOs and extraterrestrial life forms. Between his longtime love of science fiction and the public focus on the development of the U.S. and Soviet space programs, spaceships and aliens seemed to be a logical point of focus for him. He quickly found that, for once, he was not at the forefront of a field of study. While he had been synthesizing proteins and teaching future chemists, the American public had become obsessed with the potential for life in space. The American UFO craze had begun in 1947 with an upswing in reported “flying saucer” sightings which resulted in a series of U.S. Air Force investigations (Projects Blue Book, Sign, and Grudge). In 1952, the term “Unidentified Flying Object” was coined and, by 1956, several civilian research groups had formed, including the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization and the National investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.

A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects

In order to understand what was going on in the world of UFO studies, Pauling did what came naturally. He began to read. While the ‘flying saucer’ section of the Pauling personal library is very small, it’s clear he was interested in the big picture, pulling from both scholarly and popular sources. One text, entitled NASA’s Space Science and Applications Program, is a well-worn report on NASA’s long term goals in space exploration and bioscience. Another, The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, is billed as “The complete report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force.” This volume, though lacking Pauling’s typical marginalia, sports heavy wear suggesting that it was a favorite.

A Study of Unidentified Flying Objects - 02

For more sensational reading, Pauling settled on the likes of Brinsley Trench’s The Flying Saucer Story and John G. Fuller’s Incident at Exeter. Pauling’s copy of Trench’s work is speckled with hastily scribbled questions, the word “check” next to underlined passages, and notes to contact a variety of scientists and officials. His margin comments belie a heavy skepticism suggesting that, despite his willingness to explore the unorthodox, Pauling maintained a strict logical outlook. As can be expected, claims that defied conventional science readily drew Pauling’s criticism. At one point, Trench claims “It [a UFO] could easily withstand temperatures at 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit, without showing any traces of melting.” A large question mark sits in the margin next to it as a testament to Pauling’s disbelief.

It’s easy to imagine an aging Linus Pauling reading books about outer space and aliens in his free time, much as others read romance novels or tabloid newspapers. And certainly, his interest in the topic was primarily recreational, but it appears to have evolved over time. Pauling’s interest in UFOs peaked in 1966. He began preparing to formalize his research, going so far as to create a research proposal enumerating the requirements of an in-depth study on UFOs. As he became increasingly involved in the question of extraterrestrial sentience, his research became more and more intensive. When he had exhausted the available literature, he began contacting other academics for aid. Set into his copy of Frank Edward’s Flying Saucers: Serious Business is a 1968 letter from Pauling to Sterling A. Colgate, president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. In the letter, Pauling queries Colgate regarding a recent siting near the New Mexico campus, asking for information on the Institute’s official position regarding UFOs. By involving other researchers in his work, Pauling was taking a big step. He had announced that, despite public and scientific skepticism, he was willing to approach UFOs as a viable research topic and, more importantly, associate his name and reputation with that research.

Unfortunately, Pauling’s UFO work never went very far. Following his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, he increased his efforts for nuclear disarmament, eventually pushing aside many of his lesser interests. By the 1970s, he was heavily involved in the promotion of orthomolecular medicine and the movement against the Vietnam War. Though we might imagine his interest in extraterrestrials continued, evidence suggests that his activist lifestyle left no room for further inquiry.

For more information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Online Portal or the OSU Special Collections website.


This letter, posted by request, was written from Linus Pauling to Stirling A. Colgate on June 19, 1968.

Letter from LP to Colgate 6-19-1968