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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,
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:
National Academies

Linus Pauling Research

Linus Pauling

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

Linus Pauling Interview (page: 8 / 9)

Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace

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  Linus Pauling

When you look at the controversies of your life, what do they say about how much impact an individual can have?


Linus Pauling: Sometimes I say you shouldn't think that your efforts, your demonstration, participation in peace walks or writing letters to members of Congress or to the local newspaper are wasted efforts. You can contribute and you can't be sure how great your contribution is, but you can contribute, so do it.

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So then, of course,


I wrote my book Vitamin C and the Common Cold in 1970, August 1970, sitting mainly there in this room. I thought, you know, everybody will be happy to have this book that tells about how to keep from suffering with the common cold. The doctors will be happy, they won't be pestered by patients with this minor problem the way they are now. They can concentrate on more serious diseases. And, what happened? A month later, The Medical Letter published an attack on me for having written this book. And, all the other medical... Modern Medicine published an attack on me for a whole lot of things. I wrote to the men, the editor of Modern Medicine and said, "You remember that Modern Medicine gave me the Modern Medicine Award four or five years ago for my work on sickle cell anemia. And, here you are attacking me." And, then I went up and said, "I want you to publish this retraction." And, I wrote a very abject retraction on all the points and they published it just the way I had written it, retracting. I've been astonished at the response of the medical profession to orthomolecular ideas.


Do you find this resistance to your views on orthomolecular medicine annoying? I know it's irritating, but do you ever get just downright angry about it?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: I don't think so. It's not in my nature. I left out, of course, the response by the American government and the Institute to my efforts for world peace. It didn't occur to me back in 1946. I was saying -- in what I thought was a completely logical way -- that the time had come to give up wars between the great nations. They are counter-productive now, nobody benefits. They are so destructive that nobody benefits, so we better be sensible. And here I get attacked! So you'd think I'd learn after a while to not be surprised.

It brings to mind the controversy surrounding Robert Oppenheimer and the dispute with Edward Teller. You were a bit outside that because you declined to work on the Manhattan Project.

Linus Pauling: That's right. I had known Teller from 1930 and, of course, had much respect for him as a scientist. A very smart fellow, too emotional.

Do you have strong feelings from that era when Oppenheimer lost his security clearance, when there was that whole debate over who is and who isn't a "real" American?

Linus Pauling: Yes. I think it was shocking that the United States government authorities showed so little gratitude to Oppenheimer, the way they did in these hearings.


Teller wasn't the only one who testified against Oppenheimer. There were two or three other scientists, too. And, of course, the main person involved was Strauss. Strauss, a banker, began thinking of himself as a theoretical physicist, and began to be jealous. Strauss was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He began to be jealous of Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer of course could be caustic in his criticisms, and I was told the story about a seminar that Teller gave at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer said, "Here, how could you have made such an elementary mistake as the one that you made back...so none of your equations are any good." Teller felt that he was demeaned by this.


Linus Pauling Interview Photo
I don't know exactly what occurred, but this is the story that went around. Oppenheimer was unhappy with Teller, in that Teller was brought in to do a part of the job connected with making the atomic bomb, and he just refrained from doing it or refused to do it, so that Oppenheimer had to get someone else in to do the job that Teller was supposed to do.

There are a number of people who are great physicists who say that they would have been chemists but found it too difficult.

Linus Pauling: Well, Einstein, for example. Einstein, of course, was very smart. In 1931 perhaps, I've forgotten which year, Einstein was visiting at Cal Tech, and I gave a physics seminar on quantum mechanics and chemical structure. Einstein was there sitting in the front row in the physics lecture room. There were reporters there, of course, as usual wherever Einstein was. And at the end, the reporters asked him, "What did you think of Professor Pauling's talk?" And he said, "It was too complicated for me." This was published in the Pasadena Star News. Perhaps I did include too much detail for a physicist. Chemists are more interested in the details than physicists are.

How do you feel about the contributions you have made? All modesty aside, what do you think are your greatest contributions?

Linus Pauling: I have answered that question in the past by saying that I think my 1931 paper was the most important of the papers that I have written. There were others, too, that all together changed the science of chemistry. It's hard to say what practical effect there is of that. How many people have benefited from the fact that chemists are able to work more effectively now than they were before 1930? I don't know. In a practical sense, stopping the bomb tests. I was not alone responsible for that, but if, for the sake of argument, we say, as in fact the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said,


There probably would not have been a bomb test treaty if there hadn't been somebody doing what I was doing for those years. If the bomb testing had gone on at the same rate for a few more years, it would have meant that millions of children -- according to my calculations, which seem to have been essentially in the right order -- millions of children, infants, would have been born with gross physical or mental defects that otherwise would not have had the defect and millions of people would have died of cancer at an earlier age than otherwise. So that -- to the extent that I was involved -- that was, I think, pretty important. The ideas about orthomolecular medicine, I think, have already affected millions of people. So, I feel much surprised by it that I have contributed something to the well-being of human beings.


As you were building on your discoveries, and you discovered the alpha-helix, you just missed being the first person to discover the double helix. Is that right?

Linus Pauling: It's hard to say. For a while I said I didn't want to make a statement, but more recently I have been saying...


Perhaps, if I had been allowed to go to that meeting in London, which is what people say interfered, perhaps, I would have discovered the double helix. I had described it several years earlier, saying that the gene consists of two mutually complementary molecules which, when separated, each could act as a template for the synthesis of the other. And, Watson and Crick knew that and they were using my method by which I had determined the structure of proteins, the alpha-helix and the two pleated sheets in their attack on the double helix, just as I was. I think my wife may have been right in sort of implied criticism -- not really implied -- afterwards, when she said to me, "If that was such an important problem, why didn't you work harder at it?"


As I look back, my feeling is that I didn't work very hard at it. I have to admit, I sort of had the feeling that I didn't need to work very hard, that I would probably discover it in the course of time, as a structure of the nucleus. So, this was a sort of hubris, I suppose, the sort of feeling that I was better than I really am.

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This page last revised on Feb 29, 2008 17:16 EDT
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