Success Chemistry

Discover who you are | Become unforgettable

Linus Pauling

GlossarySuccess Chemistry Staff

Linus Pauling biography 

Born in Portland, Oregon, Pauling demonstrated an early interest in science by collecting laboratory equipment and conducting chemistry experiments in his childhood home. To earn money in high school, he spent his after-school hours working in the school’s chemistry lab. Despite economic challenges, Pauling applied to the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University), earning his BS in chemical engineering in 1922. He then accepted a graduate appointment at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), earning his doctorate in physical chemistry and mathematical physics in 1925.

Following a fellowship year in Europe, during which he investigated the implications of the “new physics” of quantum mechanics for chemistry—particularly for chemical structure—Pauling returned to the United States and in 1927 joined the chemistry faculty at Caltech.

Linus Pauling biography

Linus Pauling during an oral history interview conducted by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, now the Science History Institute, in 1987.

Scientific Achievements

During his early years at Caltech, Pauling continued on his trajectory of investigating molecular structures. Using the relatively new technique of X-ray crystallography (also called X-ray diffraction), which he had learned in graduate school, he was able to determine the structures of a number of crystals. Informed by quantum theory, Pauling combined his observations made by X-ray crystallography with complex mathematical calculations to develop generalizations about crystal structures, formulating “Pauling’s rules” for atomic arrangements in crystals with ionic bonding. These rules enabled him and others to more accurately predict and determine crystal structures. Pauling also deciphered the structures of a number of gas molecules using the even newer technique of electron diffraction.

In the mid-1930s Pauling became interested in biological molecules, especially proteins. His investigations of the protein hemoglobin helped him ascertain the molecular cause of sickle-cell anemia and define a new class of disease—molecular disease. In the late 1940s, Pauling deduced, from theoretical knowledge and X-ray diffraction data, a fundamental structure of proteins, which he called the alpha helix. For these and other discoveries he is sometimes considered a father of molecular biology.

Pauling conducted pioneering studies in the magnetic properties of atoms and molecules and the relation of electronegativity—the tendency of an atom to attract electrons in a bond—to the types of bonds that atoms form (ionic, covalent, or somewhere in between). He developed the first electronegativity scale to assign values to atoms involved in “intermediate” bonds.

To better explain the nature of covalent bonding, in which electrons are shared between bonded atoms, Pauling formulated the groundbreaking concepts of resonance and hybridization, which in turn provided chemists with a more robust theoretical basis for predicting new compounds and chemical reactions. He later extended the theory of covalent bonds to include metals and intermetallic compounds.

In addition to hundreds of scientific articles, Pauling published two seminal works in chemistry. In 1939 his landmark book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals, laid out all of his discoveries to date. And after years of teaching budding young chemists at Caltech, he produced his influential textbook General Chemistry(1947), which changed the way chemistry was taught on a global scale.

Pauling received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”

Linus Pauling last interview

By  Published on 24/02/2014 Updated on 10/03/2017

On April 14, 1994, a few weeks before his death, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, pioneer of vitamin C and considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, awarded to Thierry Souccar on his property in Gorda (California) two hours of informal talk - his very last interview.

On 19 August 1994 Linus Pauling, the only man twice awarded by the Nobel Prize, founder of modern chemistry and pioneer of nutrition, disappeared. Four months ago, he had received Thierry Souccar for what should be his last interview. Here is the interview.

Thierry Souccar: The British scientific magazine New Scientist said of you that you are one of the twenty greatest scientists of all time, along with Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. What do you attribute to your success as a scientist?

Linus Pauling: The success is largely due to a broader knowledge than that of most scientists, especially an extensive knowledge of empirical chemistry, and also a good knowledge of mathematics and physics. You see, today students are asking me what subjects to study to get into nutritherapy. I tell them: do not study nutrition. Study physics and chemistry, biochemistry, make sure you have a solid foundation. The other subjects you can learn in books, but the basic scientific knowledge you will not learn in books. You need the stimuli that the class and the teacher bring.

You grew up in a small village in Oregon. What did the little Linus Pauling look like?

I was born in a village of 500 inhabitants. There are still 500 inhabitants today, it remained the same ... What interested me was the properties of minerals. Why are some substances colored and some not? Why are some minerals hard and others soft? So I accumulated a kind of empirical knowledge, and at the same time, I asked a lot of questions, I read a lot of books. When I was nine, my father, a pharmacist, wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. He said, "My son read all the books around. Could you suggest some titles that would suit him? "

It is to this curiosity that one owes your test of 1931, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, which always refers?

Yes. I got a Ph.D. in chemistry, but my first two books, The Structure of Line Spectra and Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, were mostly physics books, rather than chemistry. In 1926, thanks to a scholarship, I had the opportunity to visit the major laboratories in Europe, where attempts were made to find applications in quantum theory. That year, I published the first article that applied quantum mechanics to systems with more than one electron. At the end of the 1920s, I was the only person in the world with a good understanding of quantum mechanics, and extensive knowledge of chemistry. This is how I was able to develop the quantum theory that I called "resonance".

For most people, your name is associated with nutrition and medicine. But you have never received formal education in these two disciplines.

It is true. I have never taken a course in biology or even biochemistry. When I published Vitamin C and Colds in 1971, a nutritionist wrote that I had not had a single nutrition class and that I would probably fail the first year exam (laughs). Biochemistry never really interested me

The publication of this book, in which you argue that megadoses of vitamin C can prevent colds, has triggered considerable controversy with the medical community. Did you expect it?

No, I thought everyone would appreciate my book. People would be happy, they would suffer less, the doctors would be satisfied, they would be less disturbed for such a commonplace illness. So I was very surprised that the medical establishment is falling on me! Of course, the scientists said, " I do not know anything about vitamins, but Linus Pauling has been so good in the past so many times that he's probably right again. But doctors and medical authorities did not know it, they knew neither my reputation nor my contributions. And they were visibly in bad faith. It is an idea that it was difficult for them to accept.


I have often asked myself this question. When medications began to be used in medicine, doctors wondered, "If we have an interesting substance to treat a disease, how much should we give? They said, "Chemotherapy drugs can save someone's life, but they're also toxic. We can not constantly increase the doses. So, they agreed on the doses that are usually effective. Then they came to vitamin C. They asked themselves the same question: " What is she controlling? Scurvy! So, we will determine the doses needed to prevent scurvy. That's what they did, and since then, we've had accepted doses for vitamin C. It did not occur to them that massive doses of vitamin C could be of additional interest against other diseases. and that they improve overall health. Or it occurred to them, and they rejected it. That's what happened, even though many doctors have observed the benefits for their patients of megadoses of vitamin C. Anyway, the medical profession was focused on vitamins in high doses. And she still is.

Do you still take 18 grams of vitamin C a day?

Who, yes. Oh ... sometimes I forget. I spread the doses throughout the day, and sometimes it comes out of my mind. But yes, yes, I take about this amount. And of course other vitamins too. Vitamin E. Essentially what Dr. Hoffer (see box) gives his patients: 800 mg of vitamin E, 1000 to 2000 mg of niacin [vitamin B3 or PP] and selenium. Hoffer has prescribed this orthomolecular treatment to his patients for years.

You do not hide getting cancer. Is not it paradoxical in a man who promoted vitamin C as an anti-cancer agent?

That's right, I have prostate cancer. This type of cancer usually occurs before 70-75 years, and as I have 93, I think the high doses of vitamin C that I take have saved me twenty years. In 1966, I gave a lecture on orthomolecular medicine and I expressed the desire to live another 20 years. As a result of the conference, I received a letter from a biochemist, Irwin Stone, who wanted me to live not 20 years, but 50 years more. He added that a diet rich in vitamin C would give me good health for a long time, and he added a series of studies to support his hypothesis. I found them convincing and that's how I started with my wife taking high doses of vitamin C.

Today, you argue that vitamin C could prevent atherosclerosis!

Yes. My last article on this topic was published two years ago in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. I wrote it with Dr. Matthias Rath. It is entitled: "  Vitamin C deficiency is the cause of cardiovascular disease.  We also say that lysine can prevent these diseases. I published three articles on the effects of daily supplements of 5 g of vitamin C and 5 g of lysine in heart patients.

What is your hypothesis based on?

Well, everyone agrees that these diseases start with vascular wall injury. A few years ago, I wondered why such lesions appear. And the answer is probably that the body lacks vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen and elastin, substances that make ships strong and healthy. If you lack vitamin C, you do not make enough collagen, or it is of poor quality. Most animals make vitamin C, and they do not have the type of cardiovascular disease we have. Sometimes they have problems, but not in areas of stress, where the pulse is strong, like the coronary arteries or the brain.

What motivated your interest in vitamins? Science, provocation, or concern for the common good?

There is a psychiatrist in San Francisco who is writing a book right now. It will be entitled Linus Pauling, the Humanist. He maintains that everything I have accomplished in my life, I did for humanistic reasons. I replied that I do not agree. Most of the things I did was to satisfy my curiosity. But in a sense, my interest in vitamins may come from the feeling that they can make an important contribution to people's health, rather than a purely scientific curiosity. Vitamins do not interest me much from a scientific point of view.

It is still "Pauling the Humanist" who militate against nuclear tests in the atmosphere.

After the war, I decided that it was important to prevent a nuclear disaster and that I would do well to take my responsibilities. Until 1945, it seemed to be impossible for the world to get rid of the immorality of war. I felt we had to deal with it. When atomic bombs were created, with their terrible power, it seemed to me that there was a chance to end the war. At first, I simply said that a nuclear war would be terrible and that it was better to seek peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, but then it became clear that the trials themselves were dangerous.

At that time, you were accused by Senator Joseph McCarthy of communist sympathies ...

Yes. The members of Congress asked me if I was a communist, or if I had been. I told them that I was staying out of the doctrines. I told them this: "No one tells me what to think except Mrs. Pauling. "We asked my wife why I had put myself in a situation of conflict with the government, and why I had continued my work despite the problems this posed me, and that this posed to my wife and my children. She replied, "It's stubborn. He is not ready to change his mind, even under pressure. "Ava said I was stubborn, but I just did not want to be silenced by Mccarthy. I continued with respect for myself. At that time, my passport was removed. The head of the passport office said that my anti-communist statements were not convincing enough! (Laughter.) Finally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs returned my passport in 1954; they did not have enough guts to stop me from going to Sweden to receive my Nobel Prize. At the same time, I was attacked by the Soviet Union. The Soviets said that my theories of chemistry were incompatible with dialectical materialism and that no good patriotic Soviet scientist should use them. In fact, when I went to the USSR, I noticed that they continued to apply my ideas, but under fireworks. Finally, after 5 years, the authorities published a new report on the state of chemistry and said that Professor Pauling's ideas could be used, but not under the name of resonance theory ". They were to be used under the name of " theory of intermediate states ". In short, it took them five years to recognize that it was a mistake to attack my theories. They were too good (Laughter).

Do you have political convictions?

Oh yes. Well, one could say that I am a kind of moderate socialist, of progressive obedience. In general, I supported Democratic candidates.

It did not stop you from demonstrating against John Kennedy, whom you were close to yet. It circulates a tasty anecdote about your participation in a demonstration in front of the White House in 1962. It's a legend or reality?

You are surely referring to the day of April 28th. That's what happened. Ava and I had two invitations to go to Washington that day. The first was from opponents of the atomic bomb, who asked us to join the planned demonstration in front of the White House, because of the decision of President Kennedy to resume nuclear tests in the atmosphere. The second invitation came from the Kennedy couple, who were asking us to attend a reception given in honor of scientists.

What have you done?

Well, we marched in front of the White House with signs calling for the end of the nuclear tests. At the end of the day, we put up our signs and we crossed the lawn to attend the reception. When we arrived, Jackie Kennedy leaned toward me and said, "Do you think it's reasonable to parade as you do in front of the White House? Whenever Caroline [the President's daughter, then 5 years old] sees you in a demonstration, she asks me, "What did dad do wrong?". At that moment, John Kennedy approached and whispered to me, "  I hope you will continue to express your opinions for a long time."

Your office is cluttered with articles and books. What were you working on before I arrived?

On issues of nuclear physics, the structure of the atomic nucleus. I am not satisfied with what nuclear physicists say about the structure of the nucleus, the energy levels. And I developed an alternative hypothesis - my personal theory of nuclear structure. I published 3 or 4 articles in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and I even managed to place 1 or 2 in physics journals. But physicists do not know, they do not care. A bit like doctors ignore vitamins!

The life of Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling

Linus Carl Pauling is born February 28 in Portland, Oregon. His father, a pharmacist who immigrated from Freiburg im Breisgau, died in 1910 of a stomach ulcer. His mother then runs a pension. Linus Pauling studies chemical engineering at the Oregon Agricultural College, now Oregon State University in Corvallis. After just two years, the university offers him a lecture in quantitative analysis. Linus Pauling investigates the relationship between the physical and chemical properties of a substance and its atomic structure. In doing so, he lays the foundations of quantum chemistry. After completing his bachelor's degree, he moves to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Marriage with Ava Helen Miller. The marriage produces three sons and one daughter. Linus Pauling finishes his doctorate summa cum laude. Pauling travels to Europe to continue working in the field of quantum theory. He studied with Arnold Sommerfeld in Munich, Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Erwin Schrödinger in Zurich. Linus Pauling becomes Assistant Professor of Theoretical Chemistry in Pasadena. At the California Institute of Technology, he continues to study X-rays on crystals and performs quantum mechanical calculations on atoms and molecules. Linus Pauling is appointed Full Professor. He introduces the concept of electronegativity. In order to break down chemical bonds, he determined numerical values for most elements (Pauling scale for electronegativity). This allows the bonds between atoms and molecules to be determined. Pauling deals with the structure of hemoglobin, the red blood cell dye. He publishes "The Nature of Chemical Bonding," a standard work of chemistry of the twentieth century, comparable in meaning to "The Organic Chemistry Textbook by August Kekule. Pauling succeeds in proving that sickle cell anemia, a hereditary disease of red blood cells, is attributable to altering a single amino acid of hemoglobin. Pauling joins the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. The association deals with the dangers of nuclear weapons. The first chairman is the physicist  Albert Einstein. Pauling transfers the helix structure (spiral structure) of hemoglobin he discovered to proteins in general. This is fundamental to the later described by James Watson and Francis Crick double helix for the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). For his "research on the nature of chemical bonding and its application to illuminate the structures of complex substances," Linus Pauling receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pauling calls for an end to the nuclear weapons tests. He presents a petition to the US government and publishes the book "No More War". His opponents suspect Linus Pauling of communist sentiment. For his commitment to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, he receives the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to Marie Curie, Linus Pauling is the only person to have received two Nobel Prizes in various disciplines. Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize for Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911). Linus Pauling works at the University of San Diego, California; two years later, he moves to Stanford University in Palo Alto. Pauling founds the Institute for Orthomolecular Medicine, today's Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Linus Pauling died of prostate cancer at a ripe old age on August 19 at the age of 93 in Big Sur, California.