Linus Pauling was born with twin legacies. Although his parents could give him very little in the way of material wealth, they did give him the better gift of great intelligence. His brilliant mind eventually provided him with financial security as well as his greatest happiness. It can also be argued that this gift of intelligence was responsible for the controversy that seemed to surround everything he did and everything he wrote. He made great intuitive leaps and was frequently criticized for the conclusions he drew from what some felt was too little experimentation, often outside of Pauling's area of expertise.
His father was part pharmacist and part "medicine man" and wasn't especially successful at either. At the time when Linus was born in 1901 the family was living in what is now the wealthiest suburb of Portland, Oregon. However, they lived a very precarious existence at the edges of poverty. In fact, when Linus was four, the family moved to his mother's home town of Condon to get financial aid from her family. Condon is a small town in north central Oregon and in many ways then (and now) was a stereotypical 'Western' town with one main street and false fronts on many of the business buildings. In Condon his father took over the town drug store and Linus began exploring the physical world around him. A small creek flows on the south edge of town. There he and a friend explored the rocky creek bed and collected some of the minerals for which Pauling would eventually establish structures at the California Institute of Technology .
It was likely during this time in Condon that Pauling developed his antipathy to snow and very cold weather. Condon's altitude is about 4000 feet and during the winter the temperature may not go above -20 Fahrenheit for days at a time. The wind roars through town because the town sits on top of the Columbia Basalt plateau and for miles around there is nothing to deflect the winds.
The Pauling family moved back to Portland just after Linus began school. When he was nine, his father died, leaving Linus, his two younger sisters and their mother to make their own way in the world. This began a stretch of more than 15 years when Pauling tried to pursue his education, while his mother tried to get him to quit school and become the support of the family. He did not quit school. However, he did find many ingenious ways to make money and most of it went to help support his mother and sisters. By the time he was twelve he was a freshman at Washington High School in Portland.
After four years of learning, with or without the help of his teachers, and of odd jobs (delivering milk, running film projectors, and even working in a shipyard, for example) he left high school. He did not graduate because the high school required their students to take a class in civics and Pauling saw no reason why he should since he could absorb any of that from his own reading. Later, after his Nobel Prize for Peace in 1962, the administration agreed that he had learned civics on his own by granting him his high school diploma. In the fall of 1917 Pauling enrolled in Oregon Agricultural College-now Oregon State University-in Corvallis, Oregon. He sailed through the freshman courses required of a chemical engineering major in spite of the fact that he was also working one hundred hours a month. He was not only supporting himself, but also providing the bulk of his family¹s support. This became more and more arduous after his mother became ill. In fact, he did not return to the college after his sophomore year because of the need for money. However, at the first of November of what would have been his junior year, he received an offer to become an instructor of quantitative analysis at Oregon Agricultural College, a course he had just taken as a sophomore! The offer included a salary of $100 a month and he gladly took it. He himself did not take any courses that year. He met his future wife, Ava Helen Miller, when she was a student in his quantitative analysis class.
When he had graduated with his degree in chemical engineering, his mother again began pressuring him to stop his education and make money, perhaps become a secondary school teacher. Pauling, however, had applied to graduate schools at Harvard, Berkeley and the fairly new California Institute of Technology. His first choice was Berkeley because G.N. Lewis himself was the chair of the chemistry department, but Berkeley was too slow in replying to his application. Harvard didn't really interest him much, so his decision was made in favor of Cal. Tech. One year after beginning work at Cal. Tech. he married Ava Helen Miller.
At the California Institute of Technology his advisor was Roscoe Dickinson, whose area of expertise was X-ray crystallography. At this time Dickinson was investigating the crystal structure of various minerals. In his work with Dickinson, Pauling displayed what was to become his standard method of attacking a problem. According to Dr. Edward Hughes, "He would guess what the structure might be like, and then he would arrange it to fit into the other data. . . he could then calculate the intensities he would get from that structure and then compare it with the observed ones." For the rest of his career Pauling was criticized for using too large an amount of intuition in his work and not always having complete data to back up what he wrote. As well as doing his research work, Pauling was taking courses and serving as a teaching assistant in the freshman chemistry course. He received his Ph. D. in chemistry with high honors in the June of 1925. His dissertation comprised the various papers he had already published on the crystal structure of different minerals.
A year later, when he was 25, he received a Guggenheim fellowship to study at the University of Munich under Arnold Sommerfeld, a theoretical physicist. Here he began work with quantum mechanics. In January of 1927 he published "The Theoretical Prediction of the Physical Properties of Many Electron Atoms and Ions; Mole Refraction, Diamagnetic Susceptibility, and Extension in Space" in which he applied the concept of quantum mechanics to chemical bonding. In March, a heated exchange took place between Pauling and W.L. Bragg in London over this paper. Bragg believed that Pauling had used some of his ideas without giving him credit for them. According to Pauling, the ideas originated in a paper by Gregor Wentzel on quantum mechanical calculations for electrons in complex atoms. "Wentzel reported poor agreement between the calculated and experimental values, but I found that his calculation was incomplete and that when it was carried out correctly, it led to values... in good agreement with the experimental values." In 1928 he published six principles to decide the structure of complicated crystals. This bothered Bragg even more since they did not all originate with Pauling. Actually, according to Horach Judson, "Pauling clarified them, codified them, demonstrated their generality and power." However, Bragg was spreading stories in England about Pauling's "thievery" and lack of professional ethics.
At this time Pauling took an assistant professorship in chemistry at Cal. Tech. There was a discrepancy, however, in what he thought he was being offered and what he was actually given. He had thought he was taking an appointment as Assistant Professor of Theoretical Chemistry and Mathematical Physics. This misunderstanding seems to have been a thorn in his side. However, thorn or no thorn, he began a period of intense and productive work. In 1928 he published a paper on orbital hybridization and resonance. In 1931 he published the first paper, "The Nature of the Chemical Bond". At this time he was also teaching classes. One of his responsibilities was the freshman chemistry course. Richard Noyes, now professor emeritus of physical chemistry at the University of Oregon, remembers that Pauling was an exciting lecturer and had an unbelievable ability as a demonstrator. He would be explaining something and "suddenly his mind would go off in a new direction, frequently into areas where the freshmen couldn't follow him." Dr. Noyes remembers one redox titration when Pauling turned on the buret then stepped to the chalkboard and began to write the equation for the reaction. He was glancing at the flask in which the reaction was taking place and suddenly moved back to the buret and turned it off, then swirled the mixture in the flask. The color was perfect, a perfect endpoint!
In 1931 Pauling was awarded the Langmuir Prize of the American Chemical Society for "the most noteworthy work in pure science done by a man under 30 years of age." In the same year he was offered a joint full professorship in both chemistry and physics at the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. He seriously considered the offer but he didn't want to have to brave the Massachusetts' winters. He ended up by accepting the position for one year only. In 1933 he was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was 32, the youngest appointment to this body ever made.
Pauling was later to write, "By 1935, I had worked out most of the fundamental problems connected with the chemical bond." and "My serious interest in what is now called molecular biology began about 1935." He began with a look at hemoglobin. He discovered that the hemoglobin in arteries is repelled by a magnet while that in the veins is attracted to a magnet. His answer to this puzzle resulted in a paper on oxygen's binding to hemoglobin in 1936. The work on hemoglobin also lead to work on hydrogen-bonding between the polypeptide chains in proteins and another paper that same year on the denaturing of proteins. Also in 1936, he was made chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Cal. Tech. In 1939 he published his most important book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond.
His work on hydrogen-bonding in proteins lead him to develop a theory of protein structure. It was generally accepted that proteins were made up of polypeptide chains which were, in turn, made up of long strings of amino acids, bonded end to end. He tried to demonstrate a way of coiling the polypeptide chain in the protein alpha keratin to match the x-rays that crystallographer W.T. Astbury had taken and interpreted, but was unable to fit a model to the data. Working with Corey, he did establish the structures of many small peptides and established that the peptide bond holding amino acids together is planar. In 1939 they formulated a small set of structural conditions for any model of a popypeptide chain.
Finally, in 1948, Pauling worked out the alpha helix structure of a polypeptide. He was in Oxford at this time, confined to bed with nephritis and bored with what he had to read. He says, "I took a sheet of paper and sketched the atoms with the bonds between them and then folded the paper to bend one bond at the right angle, what I thought it should be relative to the other, and kept doing this, making a helix, until I could form hydrogen bonds between one turn of the helix and the next turn of the helix, and it only took a few hours doing that to discover the alpha-helix." In 1954 Linus Pauling was given the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on molecular structure, especially proteins.
During World War II Pauling worked on various "war" projects as did everyone at Cal. Tech. He chose not to work on the Manhattan Project, however. At the same time his wife was becoming more and more involved in socialist politics. They fought the internment of their Japanese-American gardener and, with the American Civil Liberties Union, the internment of all the Japanese-Americans. He was also becoming more and more worried about the atomic bomb and the radiation it produced. He became involved in the Scientists Movement, a more-or-less nation-wide group of scientists working for safe control of nuclear power. The Movement believed in ³the necessity for all nations to make every effort to cooperate now in setting up an international administration with police powers which can effectively control at least the means of nuclear warfare.² His wife was a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In fact, at this time, she was probably more outspoken on the issues of human rights, peace and the banning of nuclear testing than Pauling was. In 1947 President Truman awarded him the presidential Medal of Merit for his work on crystal structure, the nature of the chemical bond, and his efforts to bring about world peace.
In November of 1950, he was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Investigating Committee on Education of the State of California. He testified for over two hours, "mainly about my reasons for objecting to special loyalty oaths involving inquiry into political beliefs." He wrote the next day, "My own political beliefs are well known. I am not a Communist. I have never been a Communist. I have never been involved with the Communist Party. I am a Rooseveltian Democrat." However, he also believed that no governmental body had the right to ask him to answer those same questions under oath. This was during the early days of the McCarthy "witch hunts", which were stronger at the time in California than at most other places. His position upset some of the trustees and some professors at Cal .Tech., who tried to oust him.
This was just after Pauling, working with Corey, had used the idea gained from his paper model to work out the structure of many different protein molecules, all of which contained his alpha-helix. His proposed structure was not immediately accepted by the scientific world, however, especially by scientists in England. Therefore, in January of 1952, Pauling requested a passport to attend a meeting in England, specifically to defend his ideas. The passport was denied because granting it "would not be in the best interest of the United States." He applied again and wrote President Eisenhower, asking him to arrange the issuance of the passport since, "I am a loyal citizen of the United States. I have never been guilty of any unpatriotic or criminal act." The answer came back asking him to provide the State Department with some evidence supporting his claims. He sent a statement, made under oath, stating that he was not a communist, never had been a communist, and had never been involved with the Communist Party. The state department replied that his "anti-communist statements were not sufficiently strong" and again denied the passport on the very day he was supposed to leave for the conference. This pattern of Pauling requesting a passport to attend various conferences and the state department denying the application continued for a little over two years. During this time Einstein wrote a letter to the state department supporting Pauling's right to have a passport. He also wrote Pauling telling him, "It is very meritorious of you to fight for the right to travel."
In 1953 Pauling published his book, No More War. Again in April of 1954, when he requested a passport, he was denied it. On November 3 of that year, while he was giving a "routine lecture" on hemoglobin at Cornell University, he was called to the telephone to learn that he had just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His first worry was, would he be able to get a passport so he could accept the prize in person He applied immediately and for weeks he heard nothing. In Washington there were strong voices opposing the granting of the passport. One senator asked, "Are you in the State Department allowing some group of people in some foreign country to determine which Americans get passports" On November 27, however, barely two weeks before the ceremony in Sweden, his passport did arrive.
His years of being unable to get a passport did more than inconvenience him. In 1948 he was already working toward a description of the structure of DNA. By the early 1950's, Rosalind Franklin and others working at Kings College in London had taken some of the sharpest, most detailed photographs of DNA ever. These are what Watson and Crick used in their successful discovery of the DNA double helix. Had Pauling been able to attend the spring 1952 conference he would likely have seen these photographs and might have come to the same conclusion, before Watson and Crick. It is sure that his not seeing them contributed to his proposed structure which had the phosphate groups closely packed inside a single helix with the bases sticking out around the outside.
Pauling continued his political activism, particularly his protesting of atomic bomb testing. This culminated in a petition to the United Nations--signed by 11,021 scientists from around the world--calling for an immediate world-wide ban on nuclear testing. Because of this petition he was subpoenaed to appear before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Committee. The committee wanted him to give the names of the petitioning scientists. Under oath, he admitted that he, Barry Commoner, and Edward Condon had initiated the petition, but refused to give any more names. There was much applause from the gallery and, after a while, the committee backed down. Later, during the Kennedy Administration, after Kennedy had decided to go ahead with atmospheric nuclear testing, Pauling sent President Kennedy a telegram asking, ³Are you to give the orders that will cause you to go down in history as one of the most immoral men of all times and one of the greatest enemies of the human race² Of course, this telegram raised quite a furor. However, the Kennedys still invited him to a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the western hemisphere. On the day of the dinner, both Dr. and Mrs. Pauling took part in a demonstration in front of the White House, then left the picket line to go in to dinner. Later that evening, Pauling even danced with Mrs. Kennedy.
On October 10, 1962, it was announced that Linus Pauling had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of a nuclear test ban treaty. This award was not universally popular. Many newspapers and magazines printed editorials denouncing him, his activism,and his having been given the prize.