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Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Photo

Born in Portland Oregon on February 28, 1901, and the only holder of two undivided Nobel Prizes, Linus Pauling was an American quantum chemist and biochemist as well as one of the founders of molecular biology. Linus was the first-born child of Herman Henry William Pauling and Lucy Isabelle Pauling. Due to Pauling’s father’s unstable means of subsistence, Pauling’s family moved homes more than usual. Shortly after Pauling’s birth, his family moved to Condon, a city in Oregon where he received his primary years of education. Aware of Pauling’s early intellectual inclinations, Pauling’s father tried doing something worthwhile for his son’s premature intellectual tendencies before his untimely death due to a perforated abdominal ulcer.

Pauling’s early fascination with chemical reactions was the result of his friend, Lloyd A. Jeffress’ makeshift chemistry laboratory in his bedroom where he performed basic chemical experiments. A curious child by nature, Pauling was intrigued by these experiments and his first encounter with chemical reactions turned into a life-long pursuit.

Upon Pauling’s father’s death, the family moved back to Portland where Pauling had to work a fair few odd jobs at grocery stores and as an apprentice at a manufacturing plant in order to keep the family’s finances running. Once he found stable ground, he was able to save enough to pay for his further studies at Oregon Agricultural College — presently known as Oregon State University.  Before enrolling in college, Pauling studied at Washington High School in Portland but graduated without a diploma for he required two courses in American History to complete his high-school diploma and put forth a request to sign up for the two courses concurrently, a request that was eventually denied. Pauling was then granted his pending diploma after he was awarded his two Nobel Prizes – a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 for his peace activism.

At college, Pauling developed an avid interest in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics and showed great promise in the sciences. The spell of his bright mind was enough to land him an opportunity to teach an introductory chemistry course at the Oregon Agricultural College. This opportunity did not just boost his teaching career but also positively influenced his personal life, for he went on to wed one of his students, Ava Helen Miller. Pauling and Miller spent the rest of their lives together and were blessed with four children.

Upon graduating from Oregon State University in 1922 with a degree in chemical engineering, Pauling enrolled in graduate school at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. At Caltech, Pauling’s graduate research consisted of the use of x-ray diffraction to determine the structure of crystals. In 1925, Pauling graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) from Caltech, with a doctorate, in chemistry.

Close to a year after graduation, Pauling was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Europe under German physicist Arnold Sommerfeld in Munich; Germany Danish physicist Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in Zürich. It was then that Pauling became acquainted with the new field of Quantum Mechanics and grew interested in how he could apply the quantum theory to his chosen area of study – structural chemistry.

Upon completion of his fellowship in 1927, Pauling returned to Caltech to serve as assistant professor on
Caltech’s faculty of theoretical chemistry, a position that grew into associate professorship (1929) and eventually to full professorship (1930). Pauling’s association with Caltech culminated with him being appointed as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Apart from his scientific endeavors, Pauling also served vital roles in the social sphere. His most prominent work was to help measure oxygen conditions in submarines and airplanes and the development of oxypolygelatin, a synthetic blood plasma to be used for emergency transfusions in warfare.

Pauling also served as a member of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, a group co-founded by Albert Einstein and utilized the platform to deliver several public addresses about the potential dangers of nuclear war.

In 1941, Pauling was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a renal disease classified as Prostate Cancer. Following the advice of Thomas Addis, Pauling chose to control the disease with vitamin supplements which eventually became the founding ground of his work on vitamins (specifically vitamin C) that vitamins didn’t just serve a role in helping overcome deficiencies but also could help treat diseases.

Pauling’s work in orthomolecular medicine left a legacy of revelations and research on treatments of the common cold, the discovery of sickle cell anemia disease, and his work concerning vitamins used for treating adaptive diseases.

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