Linus Pauling Double Nobel Prize Winner. The Life of the Chemist, Molecular Biologist and Peace Activist.
Linus Pauling was a genius who described the chemical bond, protein structure and the benefits of Vitamin C and became the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.
Linus Carl Pauling was born on 28th February 1901 in Portland Oregon. His father was a self-taught pharmacist who died when Linus was nine years old. A very intelligent boy, Pauling completed his education while undertaking a variety of odd jobs in order to help support his family. In 1917 he enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) to read chemical engineering. He graduated in 1922, having spent a lot of time helping with the lecturing in the understaffed college, his extraordinary ability having been recognized by the other professors.
European Quantum Mechanics
In order to continue his interest in the nature of chemical bonds, Pauling enrolled in the doctoral programme at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), overseen by Arthur Noyes, a famous chemist of that time. Pauling earned his PhD in 1925, through studying the configurations of atoms within molecules and crystals, using a new experimental technique called X-ray crystallography. Following this, he embarked on a 15 month Guggenheim Fellowship in Europe where he was able to learn the new theories of atomic structure based on quantum mechanics directly from leading physicists including Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schroedinger.
The Nature of the Chemical Bond
On returning to the USA, Pauling joined the faculty at Caltech and applied his new understanding of quantum mechanics to his interest in chemical bonding. During the 30s he was awarded the Langmuir Prize of the American Chemical Society and became the youngest ever appointment to the National Academy of Sciences. His most important book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, was published in 1939 and quickly became a standard work in the field. Pauling’s studies then shifted to the new field of molecular biology and he began to study the structure of proteins, discovering the molecular basis of sickle-cell anemia and the secondary protein structure called the alpha-helix. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to determine the structure of DNA. In 1954 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances” (Nobel Prize website, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954)
Peace Activism and Vitamin C Research
During the Second World War, Pauling became very concerned about the use of nuclear power and weapons and became a peace activist, organising other scientists and speaking out against nuclear testing and proliferation. This led to him being criticised in the very anti-communist US, even to the level of having his passport application turned down for several years. His activism did, however, lead to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962.
The final 20 years of his life were spent researching a field he called “orthomolecular medicine”, particularly focusing on the benefits of ingesting large quantities of vitamin C to combat several serious diseases. He continued this work until his death from cancer in 1994, despite criticism from the medical community for his unsubstantiated claims.