Linus Carl Pauling Biography

Linus Carl Pauling biography gives details about this genius won two Nobel Prizes. Learn why this man was one of the greatest accomplished geiuses of our time...

Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest scientists ever, Linus Pauling was nevertheless a very controversial and outspoken person. In fact it was this very facet of his personality that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, for his stance against nuclear weapons. Due to his forthright nature, he was labelled a communist, forced to defend himself before two Congressional Committees, risked his job, and even had his passport revoked, so that he could not travel abroad.

Linus Carl Pauling was born on 28th February 1901, and his father died when he was nine years old, forcing him to take up odd jobs to support his mother, sisters, as well as pay for his education. Even at this early age the controversial side of Linus Pauling's nature showed up, when he refused to take a class in civics which was needed in order to obtain a High School Diploma, contending that he had already read up about civics. He was finally awarded the diploma after he received his second Nobel Prize, the 1962 Peace Award, and the authorities finally accepted his viewpoint.

Having obtained his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the Oregon Agricultural College, he joined the California Institute of Technology, to complete his PhD in Chemistry. He began working on crystals, and was criticised by many for deciding on what the structure was and then fitting the data in to suit his findings. This intuitive approach to research was not appreciated as throughout his career, Pauling would frequently reach his conclusions without sufficient data.

Linus Pauling married Ava Helen Miller on 17th June 1923, and this was the beginning of a relationship which they shared right till her death, with Ava Helen participating, and supporting him in his work, and his efforts for world peace.

In 1926, Pauling visited Germany and worked on quantum mechanics, and some of his work led to a quarrel with W. L. Bragg. It was Bragg's contention that Pauling used some of his own ideas without giving him due credit.

He returned to Cal Tech where he did extensive studies on the chemical bond, and studied haemoglobin and proteins. For a long time he attempted to develop a general theory of protein structure, but was unsuccessful as his models did not match the x-ray data available. Finally in 1948, while ill and confined to bed, he began to draw the atoms and bonds on a paper, which he folded repeatedly, and thus discovered the alpha helix structure for proteins.



During the Second World War, Pauling turned down an opportunity to work on the Manhattan Project which was set up to develop the atom bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead he chose to work on development of rocket propellants, synthetic quartz, and artificial blood serum. For his work on these war related projects, he received the Presidential Medal for Merit from President Truman.

Although his scientific achievements were known world-wide, his outspoken nature made the anti-Communists viewed him with suspicion. The forced internment of Japanese-Americans was vigorously opposed by Pauling, who spoke about the dangers of atomic weapons and radiation. Although the Atomic Energy Commission claimed that there was no danger from radiation, Pauling used simple, layman terms, and facts and figures provided by the AEC themselves, to show that the levels of radiation caused by the scheduled weapons tests would cause children to be born with physical and mental defects, miscarriages, still births and increases in cancer. He joined the Scientist's Movement, which was a nation-wide group of scientists, who wished to have adequate controls to ensure the safe use of nuclear power. Ava Helen, meanwhile, joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and was an ardent proponent of world peace, human rights and the world wide banning of nuclear testing.

These activities came to the attention of the government, and in November 1950, Pauling was forced to defend his views before a Senate Committee, and efforts were made to remove him from his job at Cal Tech. The harassment from the government continued, when in January 1952 he was refused a passport which he needed to attend a conference to defend his scientific findings related to the structure of proteins. Despite his strong assertion that he was a patriotic American and not a communist sympathiser, and the support he received from various quarters, including Albert Einstein, the authorities would not relent and he was denied the right to travel abroad for the next two years. On the 3rd of November 1954, while lecturing at Cornell University, he was called to the telephone and received the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for his work on the chemical bond, and the structure of complex substances. He immediately applied for his passport, and after much delay, on 27th November just two weeks before the awards ceremony, he eventually received his passport.

The denial of a passport to Linus Pauling affected his scientific work, as he was unable to attend conferences where the latest developments were being discussed. Pauling was already working on the structure of DNA, but without a passport was unable to attend a conference where he would have been able to see photographs of this molecule. Watson and Crick who could see the photographs came up with the correct structure of the DNA molecule and if Pauling had also seen the photographs he might have come up with the same conclusions, maybe even earlier than Watson and Crick, instead of the erroneous triple helix model that he came up with.

Backed by the international recognition received as the result of the Nobel Prize, Linus Pauling's opposition to nuclear weapons became stronger. He presented a petition signed by over 11,000 scientists from around the world, to Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, calling for an immediate international ban on nuclear testing. For this he was yet again forced to appear before a Senate Committee on Internal Security, but due to popular support the Committee was forced to back down.

In 1958, his book "No More War!" was published, in which he makes a strong plea for world peace and points out the dangers of a nuclear war. When President Kennedy decided to resume atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, Pauling sent him a strongly worded telegram protesting his action. Pauling continued in his peace efforts and prepared a draft resolution for a test ban treaty, copies of which he presented to President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev. Fortunately he was now being noticed and the superpowers agreed to a limited test ban treaty, very much similar to that proposed by Linus Pauling, which came into effect on 10th October 1963, the very day he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an award which was strongly criticised by several people in the United States. Newspapers and magazines across the country carried articles and editorials which rejected all his work related to world peace, with Life magazine terming the award of the Nobel Peace Prize as a "Weird Insult from Norway".

Notwithstanding this criticism, the fact remains that still today, Pauling is the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes. This is in addition to the several other awards, medals, and honorary degrees that he received. He also served in different associations, held various academic positions, and published over 100 scientific papers and books.

Following the award of the second Nobel Prize, Linus Pauling began to work in other fields such as high temperature superconductivity, mental illness, and the usefulness of Vitamin C in combating illnesses as diverse as the common cold and cancer. In 1973, the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, was co-founded by Pauling, at Menlo Park, California, before moving to its present location in Palo Alto. Here extensive work was done in varied fields such as genetics, cancer, aging, neurology, immunology, and the role of Vitamin C and other micronutrients, in human health. It was this period of his life, and his whole hearted endorsement of the benefits of very high doses of Vitamin C that was the most controversial and sparked off several debates both within the scientific community and among the general public, which rage on to this day. Much of what Linus Pauling claimed about Vitamin C and its benefits in regard to the treatment and prevention of the common cold and cancer has been disproved by several scientific studies conducted later by others. However, such was the stature of the man that several people believed him despite the fact that his claims could not be supported by experimental data.

On 19th August 1994, Linus Pauling died at the ripe old age of 93, bringing down the curtain on the life of one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century. Besides being a scientific genius, his role in condemning the forced internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, his opposition to the wars in Vietnam and the Gulf, his demand for an end to nuclear weapons tests, and advocacy of world peace, and his controversial recommendation of low cost Vitamin C, showed him to be a man who cared.

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