Biography of Linus Pauling

Biography of Linus Pauling

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Linus Carl Pauling (February 28, 1901 - August 19, 1994) was the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes-for Chemistry in 1954 and for Peace in 1962. Pauling published over 1200 books and papers on a wide variety of topics, but is best known for his work in the fields of quantum chemistry and biochemistry.

Early Years

Linus Pauling was the oldest child of Herman Henry William Pauling and Lucy Isabelle Darling. In 1904, the family moved to Oswego, Orgeon, where Herman opened a drugstore. In 1905, the Pauling family moved to Condon, Oregon. Herman Pauling died in 1910 of a perforated ulcer, leaving Lucy to care for Linus and his sisters Lucile and Pauline.

Pauling had a friend (Lloyd Jeffress, who became an acoustic scientist and psychology professor) who owned a chemistry kit. Linus attributed his interest in becoming a chemist to early experiments Jeffress performed when the boys were both 13. At age 15, Linus entered Oregon Agricultural College (later to become Oregon State University), but he was lacking the history requirements for a high school diploma. Washington High School awarded Pauling a high school diploma 45 years later, after he had won the Nobel Prize. Pauling worked while in college to help support his mother. He met his future wide, Ava Helen Miller, while working as a teaching assistant for a home economics chemistry course.

In 1922, Pauling graduated from Oregon Agricultural College with a degree in chemical engineering. He enrolled as a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, studying crystal structure analysis using X-ray diffraction under Richard Tolman and Roscoe Dickinson. In 1925, he received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and mathematical physics, graduating summa cum laude. In 1926, Pauling traveled to Europe under a Guggenheim Fellowship, to study under physicists Erwin Schrödinger, Arnold Sommerfeld, and Niels Bohr.

Career Highlights

Pauling studied and published in numerous fields, including chemistry, metallurgy, mineralogy, medicine, and politics.

He applied quantum mechanics to explain the formation of chemical bonds. He established the electronegativity scale to predict covalent and ionic bonding. To explain covalent bonding, he proposed bond resonance and bond-orbital hybridization.

The final three decades of Pauling's research career focused on health and physiology. In 1934, he explored the magnetic properties of hemoglobin and how antigens and antibodies function in immunity. In 1940 he proposed a "hand-in-glove" model of molecular complements, which applied not only to serology, but also paved the way for Watson and Crick's description of DNA structure. He identified sickle cell anemia as a molecular disease, leading to human genome research.

In World War II, Pauling invented missile propellants and an explosive named linusite. He developed synthetic blood plasma for battlefield use. He invented an oxygen meter to monitor air quality in planes and submarines that was later applied for surgery and infant incubators. Pauling proposed a molecular theory for how general anesthesia works.

Pauling was an outspoken opponent to nuclear tests and arms. This led to revocation of his passport, as international travel was deemed by the State Department to be "not in the best interests of the United States." His passport was reinstated when he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

For the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Pauling's work on the nature of the chemical bond, his studies of the structure of crystals and molecules, and description of protein structure (specifically the alpha helix). Pauling used his fame as a laureate to further social activism. He applied scientific data to describe how radioactive fallout would increase cancer and birth defect rates. October 10, 1963 was the day it was announced Linus Pauling would be awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize and also the day the limited test ban on nuclear weapons (U.S., U.S.S.R., Great Britain) went into effect.

Notable Awards

Linus Pauling received many honors and awards throughout his distinguished career. Among the most notable:

  • 1931 - Irving Langmuir Award
  • 1947 - Davy Medal
  • 1954 - Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  • 1962 - Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1967 - Roebling Medal
  • 1968-69 - Lenin Peace Prize
  • 1974 - National Medal of Science
  • 1977 - Lomonosov Gold Medal
  • 1979 - NAS Award in Chemical Sciences
  • 1984 - Priestley Medal
  • 1989 - Vannevar Bush Award


Pauling died at his home in Big Sur, California of prostate cancer at the age of 93 on August 19, 1994. Although a grave marker was placed in Oswego Pioneer Cemetery in Lake Oswego Oregon, his and his wife's ashes were not buried there until 2005.

Linus and Lucy had four children: Linus Jr., Peter, Linda, and Crellin. They had 15 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Linus Pauling is remembered as the "father of molecular biology" and one of the founders of quantum chemistry. His concepts of electronegativity and electron orbital hybridization are taught in modern chemistry.

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