important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as
to discover new ways of thinking about them.
William Lawrence Bragg in Beyond Reductionism
The personal lives of geniuses are as complex as
those of ordinary mortals. Intellectual brilliance, after all, does
not necessarily guarantee moral integrity, personal charm, political
rectitude, or any other desirable character trait. So one should
hardly be surprised that Linus Pauling's life and personality have
been assessed in a myriad of ways by his contemporaries.
The one point on which no one disagrees is his
brilliance as a scientist. Probably the most prolific and one of
the best-known science writers of all time, Isaac Asimov, has called
him "a first-class genius, "the greatest chemist of the
20th century". Pauling's numerous honorary degrees and awards
confirm this judgment. His colleagues have honoured him at one time
or another with every high honour in chemistry.
David E. Newton in his Linus Pauling: Scientist and Advocate,
Universities Press (India) Ltd. 1999.
[The idea of writing on Pauling cropped up
after writing on G.N. Ramachandran (Dream-2047, September 2001 Issue),
who was greatly influenced by Pauling. We had reproduced the poem
written by Ramachandran on Pauling. Moreover the year 2001 also
happens to be the birth centenary of Pauling].
Linus Carl Pauling is the only person to have received
two unshared Nobel Prizes - first in 1954 in chemistry for his 'research
into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the
elucidation of the structure of complex substances', and the second
one in 1962 in Peace for his ardent pacifist campaign against nuclear
warfare. Pauling is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists
ever. Besides being the greatest architect of chemistry, Pauling
was a founder of molecular biology and a pioneer in quantum mechanics.
Pauling combined chemistry and physics to solve various puzzles
related to the nature of chemical bond. As one of his biographers
has written Pauling's understanding of the chemical bond and molecular
architecture is probably unsurpassed in the history of chemistry.
His ideas on chemical bonding are fundamental to modern theories
of molecular structure. Pauling determined crystal structure by
X-ray crystallography and the structure of gas molecules by electron
diffraction. He ascertained the molecular cause of sickle-cell anaemia
and his observation that a molecular disorder can explain the symptoms
of an illness founded the discipline, molecular medicine. He developed
an electronegativity scale to assigning electronegativities to atoms
involved in covalent bonding. He extended the theory of covalent
bonds to include metal and intermetallic compounds. It was Pauling
who formulated the concept of resonance, a very important concept
in structural chemistry. It refers to a state where none of the
classical formulae of a chemical system is entirely consistent with
observed properties. Pauling developed unique model building techniques
that he put to use in his studies of proteins and nucleic acids.
He proposed helical structures for proteins based on polarity of
the atoms in the peptide bond. His monumental text book, The Nature
of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals,
first published in 1939, is even today a classic in its field. The
book is one of the most important books in the history of chemistry.
It has been translated in many languages.
Pauling is much known for his controversial thesis
proposing that high doses of vitamin-C would help not only in the
prevention of common cold but also in the prevention of cancer.
In 1973, he founded the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine
in Palo Alto, California. Outside his scientific works, Pauling
took a vital interest in public affairs, especially in the movement
for world disarmament. His book No More War (1958) was a plea for
international peace. It was an instant best-seller. He strongly
opposed nuclear testing. He could gather signature and support of
11,000 scientists for his petition against nuclear testing in front
of the United Nations. Pauling was well-known for his independence,
courage, fighting qualities, brilliant wit and vigorous enthusiasm
for his work. Isaac Asimov called him 'a gentleman in highest sense
of the word." Pauling was a very controversial and outspoken
person. His uncompromising nature was reflected even in his school
Pauling was born in Portland, Oregon, USA on 28th
February 1901. His parents were Herman Henry William Pauling, a
pharmacist and Lucy Isabelle Pauling usually called Belle. His father
died when Pauling was 9 years old, forcing him to take up odd jobs
to support his mother and sisters as well as pay for his education.
We are told that by the age of nine Pauling had
read all the books available in his house. Pauling's father Herman
Pauling, in his attempt to collect proper reading material for young
Pauling, wrote to a local newspaper, the Oregonian : "I am
a father and have an only son who is aged 9 years, in the fifth
grade, a great reader and is deeply interested in ancient history…..
In my desire to encourage and assist him in his prematurely developed
inclinations I ask some of the Oregonian's interested readers to
advise me regarding the proper or atleast the most comprehensive
works to procure for him." we are told that Herman Pauling
did not receive any response.
Pauling's interest in science developed at the
very early age of 11. Pauling started collecting first insects and
then minerals. It is said that he did not stop at collecting the
objects but he proceeded to classify and catalogue them. However,
in his own words Pauling was not successful as a collector. To quote
Pauling: "I was not successful as a collector, but I got a
book from the library on mineralogy and I copied out tables of properties,
hardness and various properties, on to sheets of papers and glued
the papers to the wall in my work room."
In 1914 Pauling graduated from the Sunnyside Grammar
School and entered Portland's Washington High School. It is here
that Pauling became interested in studying chemistry. He was influenced
by one of his friends named Lloyd Jeffress, who had set up a small
laboratory in the corner of his bedroom. Pauling became fascinated
with chemistry after watching Jeffress conduct some simple experiments.
To quote Pauling : "I decided then to be a chemist and to study
chemical engineering, which was, I thought, the profession that
chemists followed:" Following his friend Jeffress, Pauling
also built a small laboratory in the basement of his house. He carried
out a lot of experiments on his own. He borrowed the chemicals needed
for his experiments from a small chemical laboratory at the abandoned
Oregon Iron and Steel Company in Oswego. This was possible because
Pauling's grandfather was a night watchman at a nearby plant. Later
recalling his early interest in chemistry Pauling would write: "I
was simply entranced by chemical phenomena, by the reaction in which
substances disappear and other substances, often with strikingly
different properties, appear."
Sickle-cell Anaemia: A Molecular
Sickel-cell anaemia is a hereditary chronic blood disorder
in which a person’s blood cells contain an abnormal
form of haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen
and which become incapable of carrying oxygen efficiently.
This often results in anaemia. When the blood is deprived
of oxygen the abnormal haemoglobin crystalises and distorts
the red blood cells into a sickle shaped. The presence of
sickle cells in the blood with or without accompanying anaemia,
is called sicklemia. The disease principally affects the
black population of Central Africa. Three different types
of individuals occur in such populations – those who
have two genes for normal haemoglobin and therefore do not
suffer from the disease; those with one abnormal gene and
one normal gene and are likely to suffer from anaemia and
those with two abnormal genes who suffer a chronic and eventually
fatal form of anaemia.
Pauling thought that it was an abnormality in oxygen-carrying
haemoglobin molecule found in red blood cells and not the
abnormality of the red blood cells themselves that caused
the sickle cell anaemia. Before turning to sickle cell anaemia
Pauling was working in haemoglobin. Pauling and his student
Dr. Harvey Itano demonstrated that haemoglobin found in
people having sickle cell anaemia actually differ from normal
haemoglobin molecule. Though the difference was very modest.
Only one of a total of 146 amino acids in such haemoglobin
molecule is incorrect. But such a single error was enough
to alter haemoglobin and reduce its ability to transport
Here we will discuss in little detail how Pauling
worked hard for continuing his education, with a view that it may
act as a source of inspiration to younger people. Unlike many fortunate
children, Pauling had to arrange money himself for his studies.
Before joining Oregon Agricultural College at Corvallis, Pauling
was working at a machine shop, where he was earning $100 a month
and his employer had promised to increase his salary to $250 a month
provided he decided to stay there. Pauling's mother was not in favour
of his joining the college. As stated earlier Pauling's father died
when he was nine years old. So his mother wanted Pauling to stay
at home and help her financially as she still had two young children
to raise. However, Pauling decided to join the college. Since his
mother had no means to help him, Pauling had to earn enough to meet
all his college expenses. The expenses were not very high. The college
did not charge any tuition fees and the books were inexpensive.
He lived in a cheap boarding house, where he shared a room with
a fellow student. But still he had to work hard. Describing a job
of delivering milk undertaken by him at the age of 18 he wrote:
" a very hard job, working eight hours every night from about
eight o'clock to about four o'clock with a horse pulling the milk
wagon and delivering milk to about 500 customers."
Inspite of the hard work that he had to undertake
to meet his college expenses, Pauling was able to impress his teachers
and colleagues by his studies. He had very little social life. As
his financial problem continued Pauling took up a job of paving-plant
inspector of the State of Oregon during the summer of 1919. His
job was to inspect new pavement and take samples back to the state
laboratory for analysis. His salary for the job was $125 per month.
He lived in a tent with the workmen and ate with them. He sent almost
his entire salary to his mother, expecting that his mother would
be able to help him to return to Oregon Agricultural College for
his junior year. However, the financial crisis grew worse. His mother
was suffering from pernicious anaemia. So he was compelled to decide
to continue to work as leaving-plant inspector. But then he got
an offer from Oregon Agricultural College to teach quantitative
analysis in chemistry. The offer was really extraordinary considering
the fact that Pauling was a student, who completed the course himself
six months earlier. The salary for his new assignment was $100-a-month.
His duties were to supervise laboratories and give lectures. He
had to spend 40 hours a week with students. Besides his teaching
assignment Pauling studied the works of two eminent chemists Gilbert
Newton Lewis (1875-1946) and Irving Langmuir (1881-1957). Their
works had a profound effect on Pauling. This had largely determined
the course of his work for fifty years. As