In addition to the general recognition as one of the two greatest scientists of the 20th century, Linus Pauling was usually acknowledged by his colleagues as the most influential chemist since Lavoisier, the 18th-century founder of the modern science of chemistry. His introductory textbook, General Chemistry, revised three times since its first printing in 1947 and translated into 13 languages, has been used by generations of undergraduates. After Pauling entered the field of chemistry as a professional in the mid-1920s, his work, grounded in physics, has affected the work of every chemist. He is also often considered the founding father of molecular biology, which has transformed the biological sciences and medicine and provided the base for biotechnology.
Over the seven decades of his scientific career, Pauling’s research interests were amazingly wide-ranging and eclectic. He made important discoveries in many different fields of chemistry—physical, structural, analytical, inorganic, and organic chemistry, as well as biochemistry. He used theoretical physics, notably quantum theory and quantum mechanics, in his investigations of atomic and molecular structure and chemical bonding. He ventured into metallurgy and mineralogy through the study of atomic structures and bonding of metals and minerals and, with his colleagues, published the structures of hundreds of inorganic substances, including topaz and mica. In both theoretical and applied medicine he made important discoveries in genetic diseases, hematology, immunology, brain function and psychiatry, molecular evolution, nutritional therapy, diagnostic technology, statistical epidemiology, and biomedicine.
Much of Pauling’s lifework combined the dedication and knowledge of the scientist with a deep commitment to humanitarianism that espoused his own operating ethical principle of the “minimization of suffering.” In 1945 Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited his seminal work on the nature of the chemical bond and the structure of molecules and crystals and also acknowledged his application of the resulting concepts to the elucidation of the structure of proteins, specifically the alpha helix.
Linus Pauling’s name was often in the news—as when he circulated a petition against atmospheric nuclear testing and the excessive buildup of nuclear arsenals. On October 10, 1963, Linus Pauling was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962.
—Courtesy of the Pauling Institute
How to Live Longer and Feel Better
by Linus Pauling