OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Final notebook shows Pauling still searching for answers

02/11/1999

CORVALLIS - In one of the last entries of the last research notebook in which Linus Pauling recorded his thoughts, the two-time Nobel Prize winner wrote about lying awake at night and thinking of a mistake he had made. It wasn't about his childhood memories.

It was about bottinoite.

That Pauling would lay awake at night and think about an obscure mineral discovered in the 1990s gives a clue to how his great mind worked. Wrote Pauling: "I am astonished! It is 18 days since I started thinking about bottinoite. Only last night, in bed, did I recognize that the formula Ni(OH2)6 SB(OH)6 is wrong. It would require SbII, which is unlikely. It is a pale, blue-green mineral."

After scrawling several lines of now-correct chemical formulas, Pauling noted wistfully that his earlier mistake was "probably the result of my poor eyesight."

Easily understandable. After all, Pauling at the time was approaching his 92nd birthday and had been filling research notebooks for nearly three-quarters of a century. Oregon State University's most famous graduate completed his first research notebook in 1921, one of the nearly 500,000 items he gave to the university which now are housed in the Special Collections area of The Valley Library.

Those notebooks are among some of the most prized items in the collection, because they include his theories and experimentation on some of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century, including the nature of the chemical bond, quantum mechanics, the benefits of vitamin C and micronutrients, and the causes of sickle cell anemia and other diseases.

Pauling continued writing and experimenting until just months before his death in the summer of 1994, though the entries in his final research notebook became shorter and less detailed. He began that final notebook in October of 1991 and made the last entry on Jan. 23, 1994, about six months before he died. Among the entries:

 

  • "Late Saturday, 23 May 1992, I had an idea about fusion energy. I shall write it down soon - I haven't revealed it to anyone, but by phone I told (my son-in-law) last night that I had an idea. I now work on my paper on puzzling aspects of excited superdeformed nuclei." - May 26, 1992

     

  • "I have invented a simple method of determining the amount of lipoprotein-a in the plasma or serum of blood. The invention is important because the risk of disability and death by cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is high for people with a high blood level of (long chemical formula)..." - July 13, 1992

     

  • "Work on Cancer Research: "I have decided that I do not have the computer facilities to resolve the cohorts into subcohorts - also, the numbers of patients are too small for refined analysis." - Feb. 13, 1993

The final notebook, in one sense, is classic Pauling, said Ramesh Krishnamurthy, project director for the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers.

"One of the hallmarks of Pauling's career is his amazing versatility," Krishnamurthy said. "Not only was he a scientist and a peace activist, he contributed to many interdisciplinary fields - physical chemistry, molecular biology, crystallography, orthomolecular medicine, cancer research and numerous other sub-disciplines.

"In his final notebook, he was exploring fusion energy, cures for cancer, and intervention for heart attack and stroke patients, not to mention his work with vitamin C," Krishnamurthy added. "There were few challenges he would not attempt."

Linus Pauling died on Aug. 19, 1994, at the age of 93.