OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

A national treasure: Pauling collection nears completion

02/10/1999

"Today I am beginning to write the history of my life...Often, I hope, I shall glance over what I have written before, and ponder and meditate on the mistakes that I have made - on the good luck that I have had."

16-year-old Linus Pauling, August 29, 1917

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. - In the spring of 1986, Linus Pauling announced that he would give all of his scientific papers, books, medals, awards and memorabilia to his alma mater, Oregon State University. It was considered quite a coup for the university, for P auling not only was the lone individual to win two unshared Nobel Prizes, he was known for being meticulous in saving his life's work.

No one, however, knew just how meticulous the great scientist and peace activist really was.

Some 13 years after the first box of papers arrived on the Corvallis campus, the Pauling Collection is finally nearing completion. With almost 500,000 items, ranging from his two Nobel Prizes to his original research notebooks on quantum mechanics and the chemical bond, it represents one of the most complete collections in the world of an individual scientist's work.

"Linus Pauling kept virtually everything he wrote or recorded since he was 16 years old," said Ramesh Krishnamurthy, project director for the Special Collections program at OSU's Valley Library. "It is one of the most important archives in existence an d it's fascinating because its spans his work as a scientist and as a peace activist, two major, distinctly different disciplines."

It has taken more than a dozen years to sort the half-million items and the work is not yet completed. The catalog alone is nearly 500 pages of single-line type. About one-fourth of the materials have been digitally scanned and can be viewed by visitor s to the Special Collections area. Among the more notable items are:

 

  • Pauling's 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize.

     

  • The original petition for nuclear disarmament that Pauling circulated, containing the signatures of 11,000 scientists and Nobel laureates from around the world. Signed by Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and others, it was presente d to the United Nations.

     

  • All of the original research notebooks that Pauling ever wrote, recording his ideas, scientific theories, personal notes to himself, and an occasional love note to or from his wife.

     

  • Letters from Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jr., Albert Einstein, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt and other prominent 20th century individuals.

The collection also includes the papers and memorabilia of his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, a noted peace and civil rights activist, who helped channel Pauling's genius and ambition toward prominent social causes.

Krishnamurthy said the collection is a treasure trove for scientists, students and biographers. This past year, Ph.D. students from Harvard University and the University of Pittsburgh visited the collection to write dissertations about Pauling. Eight a uthors have written biographies, scientific papers or other books about him, including a new book on his peace essays and talks called "Linus Pauling on Peace." Edited by Barbara Marinacci and Krishnamurthy, it was published by Rising Star Press.

The books keep coming. Another new book, published by the Oxford University Press, is "Linus Pauling and the Chemistry of Life," written by Tom Hager of Eugene.

The collection also features fascinating footage and sound recordings of Pauling, including some 60 hours of unused film from a Nova documentary; scratchy Dictaphone recordings to his secretary for transcription, an audiotape of Pauling's debate with E dward Teller about nuclear fallout, and a series of films showing Pauling as a classroom teacher at the California Institute of Technology in the 1950s.

Among the most requested items in the collection are Pauling's original papers on quantum mechanics, the molecular clock, and his resonance theory; background materials relating to the canceling of his passport by the State Department; and his claims a bout megadoses of vitamin C.

Also included in the vast number of materials are some little-known curiosities, including a certificate from the War Department for his "contributions to the successful execution of the Second World War." Pauling had conducted secret, classified resea rch on a chemical dye that disappeared after three months - in other words, invisible ink.

The vast collection is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Appointments, which can be made by calling 541-737-2075, are suggested to help the staff locate items visitors request.

Most visitors, said Krishnamurthy, leave "completely overwhelmed by the experience."

"The materials really provide an insight into one of the greatest minds of the 20th century," said Krishnamurthy. "It's fascinating to see the way Pauling approached science, the way he looked at life, and the special relationship he had with his wife .

"When he had moved to Cal Tech to get his Ph.D. and Ava Helen was still in Corvallis, he wrote more than 100 letters to her in a matter of months," he added. "He would write her three- to four-page letters virtually every day - not only of courtship, but letters that spelled out his ambitions. In one letter in 1923, he told her he wanted to win a Nobel Prize.

"And after he had won his first one in 1954, he went back and circled that part of the letter."