Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
  The Arts
  Public Service
 + Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like Linus Pauling's story, you might also like:
Francis Collins,
Freeman Dyson,
Gertrude Elion,
Paul Farmer,
Murray Gell-Mann,
Eric Lander,
Robert Langer,
Leon Lederman,
Robert Lefkowitz,
Mario Molina,
George Rathmann,
Jonas Salk,
Glenn Seaborg,
John Sulston,
Edward Teller,
James Watson and
Edward O. Wilson

Linus Pauling's recommended reading: The War of the Worlds

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Linus Pauling in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Meet a Nobel Laureate
The Power of Words

Related Links:
Nobel Prize
Profiles in Science
Pauling Institute

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling
Profile of Linus Pauling Biography of Linus Pauling Interview with Linus Pauling Linus Pauling Photo Gallery

Linus Pauling Interview (page: 4 / 9)

Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace

Print Linus Pauling Interview Print Interview

  Linus Pauling

Could you tell us something about the obstacles you've encountered along the way?

Linus Pauling: So far as my scientific career goes, of course, there was the decision that I made in 1945 -- '46 perhaps, but starting in 1945 -- and that may have been made by my wife rather than me, to sacrifice part of my scientific career to working for control of nuclear weapons and for the achievement of world peace. So, for years I devoted half my time, perhaps, to giving hundreds of lectures and to writing my book, No More War, but in the earlier years especially, to studying international affairs and social, political and economic theory, to the extent that it enabled me ultimately to feel that I was speaking with the same authority as when I talked about science. This is what my wife said to me back around 1946. If I wanted to be effective, I'd have to reach the point where I could speak with authority about these matters and not just quote statements that politicians and other people of that sort had made.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

What was it that first got you interested in becoming an activist in the social and political sense?

Linus Pauling: When the atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, and then at Nagasaki, I was immediately asked, within a month or two, by the Rotary Club perhaps in Hollywood, to give a talk, an after dinner talk about atomic bombs. My talk, as I recall, was entirely on what the atom is, what the atomic nucleus is, what nuclear fission is, how it's possible for a substance to be exploded, liberating 20 million times more energy than the same amount of dynamite or TNT liberates. A couple of days after my talk, there was a man in my office from the FBI, saying, "Who told you how much plutonium there is in an atomic bomb?" And I said, "Nobody told me, I figured it out." And he went away and that was the end of that. But, I kept giving these talks and I realized that more and more I was saying, "It seems to me that we have come to the time when war ought to be given up. It no longer makes sense to kill 20 million or 40 million people because of a dispute between two nations who are running things or decisions made by the people who really are running things. It no longer makes sense. Nobody wins. Nobody benefits from destructive war of this sort and there is all of this human suffering." And, Einstein was saying the same thing of course. So, that's when we decided -- my wife and I -- that first, I was pretty effective as a speaker. Second, I better start boning up, studying these other fields so that nobody could stand up and say, "Well, the authorities say such and such..."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Do you think the scientist in particular has an obligation to be engaged in those kinds of activities?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: Well, yes. I have said this for many years. Almost every problem in the modern world has some scientific content, sometimes very great scientific content. For example, the argument going on now about the destruction of the ozone layer, or the greenhouse effect with an increase in temperature of the earth. Or the nuclear winters if there were to be a nuclear war. That seems no longer to be an important matter. I think the chance of having a nuclear war is much less than it was before.

But all minor problems too, the ecological problems, are largely scientific problems. And while scientists may not be able to decide what the best course is to follow, nevertheless, I think their judgment has to be a little better about these problems than that of the non-scientist. I have said that the scientist has an obligation to his fellow citizens to help them to understand the problems and to make the right decisions.

You took the information that you saw, and the concerns that you had, and you organized scientists. Tell us about the petition that you circulated in 1958 and why you began that.

Linus Pauling: By 1957, I had been talking for a dozen years about the need to control nuclear weapons, to prevent a nuclear war and to make treaties for world peace.

I was asked to speak at the honors convocation at Washington University in St. Louis. During the preceding months there had been additional information released about damage done by radioactivity from testing of nuclear weapons, and by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. So, my talk was about that. It got a tremendous response from the audience when I said, "We have to stop the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere because hundreds of thousands of unborn children and people now living are being damaged." So with two other professors, Barry Commoner and Ted Condon, I decided to write a petition. The next day we met, each of us had written a version of the petition, and I think mine was, essentially, the one selected by the three of us. We sent immediately, mimeographed it, and sent it out to 25 scientists that we knew. They all sent it right back, signed. So then I got back to Pasadena and my wife and I and some of our students and other people in the lab got busy and sent out hundreds of copies with the names of these first 25 signers -- or perhaps there was twenty-five, the three of us and 22 others. And, within a month or two I had 2,000 signatures from American scientists which I presented to Dag Hammarskjold. Scientists from all over the world began signing this petition. Originally, it was a petition by American scientists, but then it became a petition by world scientists. I think it was about 9,000 signatures that I gave, my wife and I gave to Dag Hammarskjold and ultimately, about 13,000 scientists all over the world had signed this petition. So, that had a great effect and I think even on President Kennedy because a couple of years later he gave a speech about a need for a treaty limiting bomb testing and of course pretty soon this treaty was made.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Did you have that goal in mind when you started?

Linus Pauling: Well, back in 1945, my first talks were just pedagogical. I was just explaining nuclear fission. Then I began rather gradually expressing the opinion that the time had come to work for international treaties and international law to settle disputes rather than to use the barbaric method of war, made especially barbaric by the nuclear weapons. So, I was working toward the goal of a world without war. But, I didn't ever think that I would attain the sort of prominence in this effort that I have attained. The McCarthy period came along, of course -- 1950, '51, '52 -- and many of the other people who had been scientists who had been working on these same lines, gave up. Probably saying, "Why should I sacrifice myself? I am a scientist. I am supposed to be working on scientific things, so I don't need to put myself at risk by talking about these possibilities." And, I have said, perhaps I'm just stubborn. I don't like the idea. I have said, "I don't like anybody to tell me what to do or to think, except Mrs. Pauling."

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I ran across that statement in some testimony I was giving before a Senate committee. I said, "Nobody tells me what to think, except Mrs. Pauling."

Linus Pauling Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   

This page last revised on Feb 29, 2008 17:16 EST
How To Cite This Page