This op-ed provides some history and context to the legacy of one of the most influential alumni from Oregon State University.
From the Salem-News:
Scientist’s legacy held back by state legislators
May 28, 2007
Linus Pauling is the only man to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes: one in chemistry in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1962. A Portland native, he designated Oregon State University the recipient of his legacy before he died in 1994. He had confidence his alma mater could preserve his past and continue his ambition of discovering scientific links to aid humanity in living longer and feeling better.
OSU has not failed him. They prioritized a new science facility for the Linus Pauling Institute as the top construction project for the university and worked to raise the matching funds required by the state for the project.
The governor has not failed his legacy. He included state matching funds for the facility in his proposed biennial budget.
Instead, the common Oregonians — the legislators — failed Pauling. They omitted matching funds needed for the Linus Pauling facility in the co-chairs’ budget.
Don’t blame the legislators if they’ve forgotten who Linus Pauling was. Scientific methods are rarely used in today’s debates, deeply grounded in dogmatic emotion, and honestly more legislators boast law, not chemistry degrees. Pauling, a peaceful optimist, believed knowledge could change the minds of men. In keeping with his methods, here’s why his legacy is critical to Oregonians and the world.
Linus Pauling did not simply give advice about mega-doses of vitamin C, but built the foundation of molecular biology, molecular medicine and public health advocacy we know today. In 1954, he was recognized by his peers as a pioneer homesteading the frontier of science and awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the study of the nature of the chemical bond and the determination of the structure of molecules and crystals, including the alpha helix of proteins.
Pauling had been invited to lead the chemistry division for the Manhattan Project by colleague Robert Oppenheimer, but declined. Instead he pursued molecular chemistry, genetics, antibodies and antigens in his Cal Tech lab. He published the first proof of a human disease associated with a change in a specific protein and demonstrated that individuals with sickle-cell disease have a modified form of hemoglobin. This was the first demonstration that Mendelian Inheritance — a change in a specific protein — was associated with a human disease.
During the same time, Pauling joined the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists chaired by Albert Einstein to alert the public of the dangers associated with the development of nuclear weapons. His efforts to protect the public’s health required personal sacrifice. In 1952, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department and was unable to travel to Europe and, in turn, see X-ray defraction photos of DNA that Watson and Crick (credited with determining the structure of DNA) were privy to during this time.
In 1957, biologist Barry Commoner studied the presence of radioisotopes in North American children’s baby teeth while Pauling developed calculations and predictions about the potential increased risk of cancer and birth defects from radioactive fallout. They concluded that above-ground nuclear testing posed a significant public health risk because of radiation fallout. A year later he, his wife and the scientific community gathered the signatures of 11,000 scientists to petition nations with nuclear weapons to stop above-ground nuclear testing. In 1963 he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts.
Pauling continued scientific studies until his death in 1994 at age 93. In 1996 the Linus Pauling Institute moved from Palo Alto to Corvallis, where more than half a million of his personal items are displayed.
The institute has grown from a laboratory with one principal investigator with $350,000 in outside research funds to 11 principal investigators garnering more than $5 million in outside funding. Yet it still lacks its own designated research facility. Instead, dozens researchers are spread across 10 laboratories on the OSU campus.
Imagine if legislators were forced to develop and pass bills without physically working in a common location in Salem. That’s basically the extra effort Linus Pauling Institute scientists must exert that many cutting-edge competitive researchers don’t have to.
Recently I ran into Dr. Steven Zeisel, past chairman of the University of North Carolina Public Health Nutrition Department, at a conference sponsored by the Pauling Institute. He told me I wouldn’t recognize my alma mater. Since 1988 they’ve built several new buildings featuring state-of-the-art equipment. The added infrastructure has more than doubled the number of researchers and generated millions more in National Institutes of Health grant money, fueling research and development in the area. Other states have been and are funding infrastructure.
Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute are succeeding despite the odds. They could do better. The only thing holding back them and Pauling’s legacy is the state of Oregon.
Jeanine Stice of Salem is the mother of three young sons, has a master’s degree in public health and is a registered dietitian. Her column appears every other Monday. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, A Slice of Life, at StatesmanJournal.com.