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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,
Robert Lefkowitz,
Mario Molina,
George Rathmann,
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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

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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: 9 / 9)

Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace

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  Linus Pauling

In all this time, did you ever worry about failing?

Linus Pauling: I don't think so. I never got involved in a race.

You know, I have said I wasn't in a race with Watson and Crick. They thought that they were in a race with me. My feeling was that it wasn't a race. I wasn't working very hard on the DNA problem, I was doing other things, too. And, I probably did have a sort of feeling that sooner or later I would work out the DNA puzzle.

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
As I look back, and think of what I am doing now, that I have always liked working in some scientific direction that nobody else is working in, such that I don't really have any competition.

When I was working in the effort to understand the structure of proteins, I was doing it by a method that nobody else used, which was to think about proteins in relation to the principals about chemical bonding that I had laid down in my book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond. It turned out, of course, that other people were working on the same problems, but not by the same method. In Cambridge, England, Sir Lawrence Bragg and his collaborators John C. Kendrew and Jean Baptiste Perrin published a long paper on helical structures of polypeptide chains. All the structures were wrong. They had not used the principles in my book, and they had a more difficult problem than I had, of course, but I succeeded in finding the alpha-helix and the pleated sheet structures. I was apt to be the only person attacking that problem on the basis that I was using.

Now recently, I have been trying to determine detailed structures of atomic nuclei by analyzing the ground state and excited state vibrational bends, as observed experimentally. From reading the physics literature, Physical Review Letters and other journals, I know that many physicists are interested in atomic nuclei, but none of them, so far as I have been able to discover, has been attacking the problem in the same way that I attack it. So I just move along at my own speed, making calculations, and I don't worry about someone else publishing their results a month before I publish mine.

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
I never have been involved in the sort of race that we read about from time to time, the race for a Nobel Prize when there are two groups, each struggling to get ahead of the other one in making a discovery that they think will bring them the Nobel Prize.

Nobel, in his will, referred to "the greatest single discovery or invention made in the preceding year." I thought that the discoveries I made in the period 1927 to 1937 altogether constituted a considerable advance in our understanding, but I couldn't think of a "single discovery." Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi wrote to me, saying that he was going to nominate me for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This, I think, people are not supposed to do. So what should he say was the discovery that I had made? I thought about it for a while, and I wrote back and said I thought he should say the discovery of hydrogenation of bond orbitals. That's the one thing in the 1931 paper that I would say is more important than any of my other ideas. I don't know what he did, if he did nominate me. But the Nobel committee apparently decided they could lump all of my discoveries together and say, "For his work on the nature of the chemical bond."

In a more general sense, including your personal and professional life, how much control does a person have over his or her future?

Linus Pauling: I think life it apt to be full of surprises. My feeling is, first, about a young person...

How can a young person be happy? I think a good way of increasing the probability of leading a happy life is to do two things. First, to think about what you'd like to do, whoever you are, what you like to do, and then see if you can make your living doing it. Second, look around, keeping your eyes open and your brain working and find somebody of the opposite sex with whom you enjoy talking and with whom you can get along. Get married young and stay married. So, those are the two ways in which I believe young people can be doing something wise to determine, to some extent at any rate, the nature of their future lives.

That, and take plenty of vitamin C, and they will be on the right track.

Linus Pauling: Well, there is no doubt about that. There are health practices that can be followed. If you want to lead a miserable life, all you need to do is start smoking cigarettes. I think that we ought to be doing something more than we are doing to control the cigarette smoking habit. I don't think that abolishing tobacco is the way to do it. That is, to have the government pass a law against tobacco. But to have the government subsidizing the tobacco industry, seems to me the wrong thing to do.

Looking back over your career, you became a famous person, someone who got a great deal of attention in public. What effect did that have on your family, on your wife and your children?

Linus Pauling: I'm not sure that it had very much effect. I was fortunate when I compare myself with Henry Ford.

Henry Ford was asked, "What effect did becoming a multi-millionaire have on your life?" He said, "Mrs. Ford stopped cooking for me." My wife, although she complained a bit, didn't stop cooking for me. You know, I don't know my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren well enough to know what effect having me for a father or a grandfather or a great-grandfather has on their lives. I just don't know. It's hard for people to know other people, even for me to know my children. They are pretty good children, to the extent that I know them.

Why don't you know them well enough?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: Well, with my grandchildren, perhaps I haven't had enough personal contact because they have been in distant places most of their lives. One of my grandsons, a pair of twin boys, the eldest children of my daughter and her husband, changed from being a graduate student in molecular biology to studying law. He has graduated and passed the bar examination and practices law. It is hard for me to understand why anyone would change from science to law, but it probably indicates a limited understanding on my part. He is a very smart fellow. His twin brother is a post-doctoral fellow in molecular biology now. They are both very smart.

Is there a particular talent that you don't have that you always wanted, that you thought would have been helpful?

Linus Pauling: Well, I probably should just say no. There was a period of five years, or four and a half, during which I learned no additional mathematics. And when I got to Europe with my wife in 1926, I discovered many young theoretical physicists there who knew mathematics more thoroughly than I did. If, from the time when I was 17 years old to 21, I had been learning the sort of mathematics that I started again to learn in graduate school, I might well have been more adept at the mathematical side of science than I am. But, you know, I'm not really complaining. I've succeeded in handling some reasonably difficult mathematical problems.

You certainly have. It's hard to imagine how you could have accomplished much more. Thank you for spending so much time with us.

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