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Linus Pauling

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Linus Pauling in 1954.
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Linus Pauling (1901—1994) was an American chemist famous for his work on quantum chemistry and the structures of biological molecules, before his unfortunate late turn to pseudoscience.

Scientific work[edit]

The good[edit]

Pauling brought home with him the first-hand insights into the new quantum theory and X-ray crystallography from Europe and produced first rate and seminal work on the quantum mechanics of chemical bonds, which is summarized in his book The Nature of the Chemical Bond. This is considered the founding treatise of quantum chemistry. He also co-wrote an influential text titled Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. These texts remain valuable today.[1]

From the mid-1930s, Pauling shifted his attention to the study of biochemistry. He identified the difference between hemoglobin in normal individuals and in those suffering from sickle-cell anemia using X-ray crystallography. In the 1950s, he argued that DNA had a triple helix structure as opposed to Watson and Crick's double helix model, but then revised his position after he got access to Watson and Crick's higher quality X-ray diffraction photographs. Pauling came close to beating the duo in making the discovery.[1]

The bizarre[edit]

In a rather strange turn of events, Pauling in his later days became convinced that massive doses of vitamin C could protect against not only the common cold but also various other illnesses. He was sufficiently convinced to even set up a research institute promoting his non-mainstream line of research. Such unconventional medical views have never been accepted by mainstream scientists.[1]

As the 1950s developed, Pauling dedicated more and more of his time on this crankery and political activism and did little further scientific research.[1]

Political activities[edit]

In the aftermath of World War Two, Pauling and his wife became pacifists, joining the Emergency Committee of Atomic ScientistsWikipedia. His political activism resulted in the State Department denying him a passport until Senator Wayne Morse denounced the action publicly.

As part of his anti-atomic activism Pauling signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto and Mainau Declaration.

All this meant that he was a perfect target for Red baiting. He was ordered to appear before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee where he was accused of "the number one scientific name in virtually every major activity of the Communist peace offensive in this country"[2]

The usual suspects accused Pauling of being a fellow traveller of proponents of Soviet-style communism. Pauling sued the magazine for $1 million but lost the case in court. [3] [4]

His left-wing sympathies and his anti-nuclear activism did little to endear him with his colleagues. He was practically ostracized by the Chemistry Division of Caltech till 1991, when they threw him a party for his ninetieth birthday.[1]

See Also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gribbin, John, et al. “A-Z Dictionary.” Q Is for Quantum: an Encyclopedia of Particle Physics, The Free Press, 1998, pp. 275–276.
  2. Overview of Linus Pauling
  3. the case
  4. the tough conclusion of the National Review lawsuit