February 7, 2003 (Bethesda, MD) He was a high school drop-out, a
maverick who jumped disciplinary fences, and an activist
who was attacked for his political beliefs. Yet he won two
Nobel prizes and published more than 500 papers and 11
books. His name was Linus Carl Pauling (1901-1994) and he
is probably one of the few scientists to be a household
Linus Pauling is the eighth scientist to be added to the
National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) “Profiles in Science”
Web site (http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/). He remains the
only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.
“Linus Pauling revolutionized the study of chemistry, and
made crucial contributions to medical research,” said Dr.
Alexa McCray, who heads up the “Profiles” project.
To celebrate the inclusion of Pauling’s papers on the
Profiles Web site, the Friends of the National Library of
Medicine and the American Chemical Society will host a
reception in Room 328 of the Russell Senate Office Building
on Tuesday, February 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dr. Linus
Pauling, Jr., the oldest son of Linus Pauling, will greet
The “Profiles” online exhibit features correspondence,
unpublished manuscripts, lecture notes, photographs,
reprints, and transcripts from speeches documenting the
life and career of Dr. Pauling. Visitors to the Pauling
site can view, for example, his senior class oration at
Oregon State Agricultural College, photographs of Pauling
at work in his laboratory, and the petition that he and
other scientists circulated that called for an end to
The NLM is collaborating with Oregon State University’s
Valley Library to digitize and make available over the Web
this selection of the Pauling Papers for use by educators,
researchers, students, and the public. The University is
the repository for the Linus Pauling papers.
Pauling was a descendent of a Portland, Oregon pioneer
family. He grew up in an impoverished household after the
death of his father when Pauling was 9. His interest in
science began at age 14, following a visit to a friend with
a toy chemistry set.
Pauling dropped out of high school at 16 and enrolled at
Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University),
where he graduated as a chemical engineer in 1922. He set
his sights on answering one of the most important questions
of chemistry: how did atoms bond together to form
molecules? Pauling chose a fledgling Pasadena school, the
California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, to help get
those answers, and he earned his PhD there in 1925.
After 15 months in Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship and
studying with European physicists, Pauling returned to
Caltech as a young faculty member in 1927. He began to
rebuild chemistry on a new foundation of quantum mechanics.
This work was capped in 1939 with the publication of “The
Nature of the Chemical Bond”, one of the most-cited texts
in the history of science.
From the late 1920s to the 1930s, Pauling devised new ways
of discovering the molecular structures of complex
substances. His work focused on the antigen-antibody
reaction and the structure of proteins and, in 1949,
Pauling’s team discovered the molecular basis of sickle-
cell anemia. In the early 1950s, Pauling used his model-
building approach to solve the large-scale structures of
many proteins, such as hemoglobin, an enormous advance in
molecular biology. He also proposed a model for the
structure of DNA. In 1954, Pauling’s many achievements were
crowned with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In the post-World War II period, and spurred by the
pacifist activism of his wife Ava Helen, Pauling joined
other scientists in expressing concerns about nuclear bomb
testing. The U.S. government responded by putting him under
FBI surveillance, canceling his research grants, and
refusing him a passport. Despite these pressures, Pauling
continued to focus his attention on peace work. He and his
wife gained worldwide fame by gathering the signatures of
11,000 scientists on a petition asking for an end to
nuclear weapons testing, which they then presented to the
On the day that the first nuclear test ban treaty went into
effect, October 10, 1963, Pauling received the news that he
was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead of warm
public support, the scientist encountered widespread
criticism. “Life Magazine”, for example, called the prize
“a weird insult from Norway,” and the head of Caltech
offered a weak congratulations. One week later, Pauling
quit Caltech, leaving the school that had been his academic
home for more than 40 years.
Between 1973 and 1994, Pauling’s research focused on a
field he termed “orthomolecular medicine,” the concept that
optimal health could result from ensuring the right
molecules were present in the right amount in the body. He
viewed Vitamin C as one of the most important of these
molecules, oversaw a number of investigations into its
effects on diseases, and encouraged the ingestion of daily
amounts many times greater than the accepted minimum daily
requirement. He conducted research in this field until his
death from cancer in 1994, at age 93.
“Profiles in Science” was launched by NLM in September
1998. The Library is a part of the National Institutes of
Health, an agency of the Department of Health and Human
Services, in Bethesda, Maryland. “Profiles” is a continuing
project and the Library plans to announce each new
scientist added to the site.
National Library of Medicine