Pauling, Linus

American chemist

Linus Carl Pauling, American chemist, is the only person to have won two undivided Nobel prizes (in chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962). He is best known for his work on molecular structure, the nature of the chemical bond, and the effects of various chemical agents on the human body.

Pauling was born on February 28, 1901, in Portland, Oregon, the son of a pharmacist. In 1922, he received his bachelor's degree from Oregon State College. He then became a doctoral student at California Institute of Technology (CIT), from which he received his doctoral degree in 1925. For the next two years, Pauling received fellowships that allowed him to study abroad with Niels Bohr in Denmark, Erwin Schrodinger in Switzerland, and Arnold Sommerfield in Germany.

In 1927, Pauling was appointed assistant professor at CIT, and four years thereafter became chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, a position he held until 1964. Meanwhile, between 1963 and 1967, he was a professor at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara. From 1969 until his death he was affiliated with Stanford University.

Pauling made significant contributions to molecular biology and organic chemistry. His work focused on the spatial architecture of molecules, and the relationship between molecular structure and molecular behavior. The theory of resonance, which Pauling first formulated, has since explained certain properties of the carbon compounds, particularly the subgroup known as the aromatics .

Pauling successfully applied the theories of physics to biological problems. He helped make strides in the field of immunology, for example, by looking at the basic molecular structure of antitoxins . His substantial research on the structure of amino acids helped determine the conformation of proteins . For this work, Pauling was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

During World War II, Pauling worked as a part of the National Defense Research Committee and the Research Board for National Security, helping design substitutes for human serum and blood plasma, rocket propellants, and an oxygen efficiency indicator.

As a result of the dropping of the atomic bomb at the end of the war, Pauling became concerned about the negative effects that nuclear fallout has on the molecules of the human body. After the war, Pauling became a member of Albert Einstein's Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, as well as of many other pro-peace organizations that formed in the 1950s. Among other things, he protested the development of the hydrogen bomb and vigorously promoted the adoption of a nuclear test ban treaty.

Finally, in the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling became an outspoken advocate of the value of vitamin C to human nutrition. He proposed the theory that colds could be prevented by improving nutrition, and particularly by increasing intake of ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

In 1962, Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward the nuclear test ban treaty. In addition, he was one of seven individuals awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize in 1968–1969. The U.S. government gave him the National Medal of Science in 1975.

Among his most significant publications are The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals (1939); No More War (1951), a cry for world peace; and Vitamin C and the Common Cold (1970).

SEE ALSO History of Biology: Biochemistry

Hanna Rose Shell


Brock, William H. The Norton History of Chemistry. New York: Norton Press, 1993.

Goertzel, Ted, and Ben Goertzel. Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Gilpin, Robert. American Scientists and Nuclear Weapons Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Pauling, Linus, with Roger Hayward. The Architecture of Molecules. San Francisco, CA: Freeman, 1964.

Serafini, Anthony. Linus Pauling: A Man and His Science. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Linus Pauling took 18,000 milligrams of vitamin C each day, which is 300 times the recommended daily allowance.

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