Stephen F. Mason

Department of Chemistry, King's College London, London, UK WC2R 2LS
and Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK CB2 3RH

This article originally appeared in Chemical Society Reviews, 26, no. 1 (February 1997). Reprinted with permission of the author.

1. Pauling's formative years
2. The nature of the chemical bond
3. Biological chemistry
4. International peace and global fallout
5. Molecular medicine
6. Conclusions
7. References

Linus Pauling, 1988

The versatile and outstanding contributions of Linus Pauling to the chemical sciences, including the biomedical consequences of radioactive fallout, were recognised by the award of two Nobel Prizes (1954 and 1963). Pauling’s contributions in historical context are discussed under five headings: X-ray crystallography and theoretical chemistry; the nature of the chemical bond; biological chemistry; global fallout; and molecular medicine.

    The award of two Nobel Prizes, the first for chemistry at Stockholm in 1954 and the second for peace at Oslo in 1963, measures the eminence of Linus Pauling as a scientist and as a world citizen. Festschrifts honoured his sixty-fifth,1 eightieth,2 and ninetieth birthday,3 with autobiographical contributions by Pauling himself in two of these, and in the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry series (1965). Pauling was interviewed many times on his scientific and social concerns, and a selection of his replies and his occasional writings has appeared recently,4 as well as a collection of tributes to him to the Journal of Chemical Education (No. 1, 1996). Substantial biographies of Pauling are available, one by a philosopher,5 a second coauthored by a sociologist and a psychologist,6 and another, the most comprehensive, balanced, and informed of the three, by a medical writer turned academic administrator.7 The second biography curiously concludes with eight interpretations from expert psychologists of the replies Pauling had given to Rorschach ink-blot tests in the 1960s, when his biochemical view of mental disorders was at odds with standard psychoanalytical thinking. Only one of the experts suspects what is obvious to the layman, that Pauling was joking, making up answers based on Freudian or other psychology.8

    Chemistry students of my generation were inspired by Pauling’s Nature of the Chemical Bond (1939), which brought a new ordering to theories of molecular structure and chemical bonding, and answered ‘No!’ to a popular examination question of the time, ‘Is inorganic chemistry a closed and finished subject?’ The book pointed the way ahead to the physical inorganic chemistry of the postwar period, but Pauling’s interests had moved on by that time to molecular biology, then to the dire consequences of radioactive fallout from nuclear explosions in the biosphere, and finally, to orthomolecular medicine.

Entire Article

S. F. Mason worked on antimalarials for his D.Phil. (1944-47) with D.Ll. Hammick at Oxford University, where he taught the history of science, as well as chemistry (1947-1953). He was then a Research Fellow with Adrien Albert in the Australian National University Department of Medical Chemistry, being built up in the Wellcome Institute, London. In l956 he moved to a lectureship in physical organic chemistry at Exeter University and became Reader in chemical spectroscopy. He was Professor of Chemistry at the University of East Anglia (1964-1970) and at King’s College London (1970-1988), working on chirality in its many aspects, summarised in his Molecular Optical Activity & the Chiral Discriminations (l982). From l988 he has been Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in the University of London, and Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Since completing his Chemical Evolution (1991), he has been rewriting his History of the Sciences (1953).