Famous Chemists – Linus Pauling


I mentioned Linus Pauling in my first post so I think it’s only fair that I give him the honour of a full post – being the only person to have both an unshared Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1954) and one for Peace (1962). Pauling is most famous for his work on the nature of the chemical bond where he used quantum physics to explain molecular architecture. His 1939 book ‘The Nature of the Chemical Bond’ remains the most-frequently cited book in the scientific literature of the twentieth century.  But what I love most about Pauling is the breadth of his studies – he was involved in the development of synthetic blood, identifying sickle cell anaemia as a molecular disease, developing an oxygen detector that could be used in submarines and of course in later life there was his interest in the uses for Vitamin C.

How did Pauling become such a noted peace activist ? This is very topical with the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just last week. Pauling had declined to work with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan project and the use of the atomic bomb near the end of the war was the catalyst for Pauling’s dedication to peace activism. From the late forties on, Pauling was a member of Einstein’s Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. During the McCarthy era, he encountered accusations of being pro-Soviet or Communist, allegations which he categorically denied. In 1958 he presented to the UN the celebrated petition signed by 9,235 scientists from many countries in the world protesting further nuclear testing and in the same year published his book No More War!. When the Soviet Union announced a resumption of nuclear testing in August, 1961, Pauling redoubled his efforts to convince the Russian, American, and British leaders of the necessity of a test ban treaty. His position is summarised in a communication published in Harper’s Magazine in 1963- ‘ I have said that my ethical principles have caused me to reach the conclusion that the evil of war should be abolished; but my conclusion that war must be abolished if the human race is to survive is based not on ethical principles but on my thorough and careful analysis, in relation to international affairs, of the facts about the changes that have taken place in the world during recent years, especially with respect to the nature of war.’
From the late sixties Pauling began a crusade to encourage the use of vitamin C for everything from living longer, curing the common cold and cancer. In 1970, Pauling published ‘Vitamin C and the Common Cold’ urging a daily dose of 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C every day (about 50 times the recommended daily dose). Unfortunately Pauling’s zeal for vitamin C’s efficacy did not stand up to scientific scrutiny and this has somewhat tainted his legacy. I’ve added a link to a site that discusses the most recent research in this field.


However, Linus Pauling had a lot to teach us as he showed us both the moral fibre of science and the depth and breadth of the scientific mind. Interestingly Einstein made the following comment about Pauling ‘Ah, that man is a real genius!’  If you want to find out more about him there is a great website at his alma mater Oregon State University.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s