Linus Carl Pauling was born in Portland, Oregon, on February 28, 1901, the first of three children of pharmacist Herman W. Pauling and Lucy Isabelle Pauling (née Darling). An internationally acclaimed scientist, educator, humanitarian, and political activist, the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes (for chemistry in 1954; for peace in 1962), Pauling was once characterized by New Scientist as one of the twenty greatest scientists of all time, on a par with Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. His magnum opus, The Nature of the Chemical Bond (1939), was one of the most influential and frequently cited scientific books of the twentieth century. His advocacy of megadoses of vitamin C for the common cold, cancer, and AIDS is still controversial, and the work for which he is best known. His life and career were characterized by controversy, and almost everything about him was larger than life.
Pauling majored in chemical engineering at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University), where he developed the belief that would guide his lifetime of research: Atomic arrangements must be responsible for the chemical and physical properties of material substances. He received his B.S. degree in 1922 and entered the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) at Pasadena, where he worked with Roscoe G. Dickinson and adopted the relatively new technique of x-ray crystallography to explore the structure of crystals. In 1925 Pauling received his Ph.D. and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to pursue postgraduate research in Europe with the seminal atomic theorists Arnold Sommerfeld, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrödinger. The first to realize the ramifications of the new quantum mechanics within chemistry, he used this body of ideas to explain and predict the properties of atoms and ions, and thus to revolutionize chemistry. In 1927 Pauling returned to Pasadena to join the faculty of Caltech, where he stayed until 1963. There he used x-ray diffraction to measure the lengths and angles of atomic bonds in the three-dimensional structures of, first, inorganic crystals and, later, organic compounds.
One of the key concepts of Pauling's quantum theory of chemical bonding, introduced in 1931, was resonance: In many cases an ion or molecule could not be represented, conceptually or on paper, as one classical structure, but required what he called a "hybridization" of two or more of these structures. The single classical structure simply did not describe the chemical bond(s). In less than a decade he had transformed the earlier, somewhat simplistic theory of the chemical bond into a powerful, highly sophisticated theory and research tool. During the mid-1930s Pauling turned his attention to molecules present in living things. His interest in the binding of oxygen to hemoglobin (the protein molecule that carries oxygen via the bloodstream to cells throughout the body) provoked a more general interest in proteins, the nitrogen-containing organic compounds required in all of animal metabolism . In 1948, while in bed with influenza, Pauling occupied himself with making a paper model of linked amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins. In this way he received the inspiration that led to his discovery of the α - helix —a crucial concept that helped James Watson and Francis Crick to determine the structure of DNA , one of the discoveries of the century. And this landmark discovery of Watson and Crick led, ultimately, to the Human Genome Project and the current revolution in genetic engineering.
After World War II Pauling studied sickle cell anemia, and theorized that it was the result of a genetically based defect in the patient's hemoglobin molecules. In 1949 he and Harvey Itano confirmed this theory; they had identified what they called a "molecular disease," one that could be defined by a molecular abnormality. In 1954 Pauling received the Nobel Prize in chemistry "for his research on the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances."
Less well-known is the record of Pauling's evolution from ivory tower scientist to ardent and articulate advocate of nuclear disarmament and of the social responsibility of scientists. His eventual clashes with political and ideological adversaries, including the U.S. government, which denied him research grants and a passport, consumed much of his time and energy. His being chosen for the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize was criticized by many, and the American Chemical Society, which he had served as president in 1949, at around this time chose to slight him.
In 1963 Pauling left Caltech to become research professor at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara, California, at which time he began to divide his time between chemistry and world peace. In Santa Barbara he became greatly interested in what he called "ortho-molecular medicine"—a biochemical approach to human health that included the central idea that large amounts of some chemical compounds normally present in the body could be used to treat or prevent disease. In 1973, following professorships at the University of California, San Diego (1967–1969) and Stanford University (1969–1974), he founded the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine (later named the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine), an organization of which he was director of research at the time of his death. He died of cancer at his Deer Flat Ranch near Big Sur, California, on August 19, 1994, at the age of ninety-three.
Pauling has been called one of the two greatest scientists of the twentieth century (the other being Einstein) and the greatest chemist since Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the eighteenth-century founder of modern chemistry. Pauling's multifaceted life and activities, scientific and personal, spanned almost the entire twentieth century.
George B. Kauffman
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Pauling, Linus (1958, 1983). No More War! New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.
Pauling, Linus (1964). "Modern Structural Chemistry." In Nobel Lectures Including Presentation Speeches and Laureates' Biographies, Chemistry 1942–1962. New York: Elsevier. Also available from http://www.nobel.se/chemistry/laureates/ .
Serafini, Anthony (1989). Linus Pauling: A Man and His Science. New York: Paragon House.
Pauling, Linus. "Science and Peace." Available from http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates .