Pauling centenary to recognize scientist, humanitarian


CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University will observe the Linus Pauling Centenary - the 100th anniversary of the birth of renowned scientist and humanitarian Linus Pauling - with a year of activities that celebrate the life and accomplishments of the greatest scholar ever to emerge from its halls.

The two-time Nobel laureate was born on Feb. 28, 1901, and later graduated in chemical engineering, class of 1923, from OSU (then called Oregon Agricultural College). Pauling died in 1994 at the age of 93, and OSU today is the repository of his papers. The Pauling Collection, which includes more nearly a half million items, is one of the most complete collections in the world capturing the career of a single scientist. It includes all of his papers, research notebooks, medals, awards and correspondence.

"Many scholars believe Linus Pauling and Albert Einstein were the two greatest scientists of the 20th century," said Stephen Lawson of OSU's Linus Pauling Institute. "Pauling had an encyclopedic knowledge of chemistry and physics, and his pioneering studies of the chemical bond led to his Nobel Prize in chemistry.

"But this incredible range of knowledge is also why he was among the first in the world to understand the health dangers of atmospheric nuclear testing, which eventually led to his Nobel Peace Prize."

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has proclaimed February 2001 as Linus Pauling Month in Oregon.

A website with information on centenary events, a Pauling chronology, multimedia presentations of biographical and scientific events in Pauling's life, and links to the catalogue of the Pauling papers can be found at http://pauling.library.orst.edu.

After earning his doctorate in chemistry and mathematical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1925, Pauling quickly became one of the foremost chemists in the world and did pioneering studies on the nature of the chemical bond that holds molecules together - work that would eventually earn him his first Nobel Prize in 1954.

"Pauling revolutionized the science of chemistry from one of description to one of prediction, based on the understanding he developed of chemical behavior at the molecular level," Lawson said. "His textbooks in this area transformed the teaching of chemistry and have been used by generations of students. Pauling's application of development of X-ray and electron diffraction opened the exploration of many inorganic compounds, resulting in publication of the structures of hundreds of substances."

His later work addressed organic substances and led to the eventual discovery of the structure of proteins critical to cellular and life functions. This set the stage for the discovery of DNA structure by Watson and Crick, who called Pauling the founder of the modern science of molecular biology. In discovering the molecular cause of sickle-cell anemia, Pauling spawned the field of molecular medicine.

"Part of what was fascinating about Pauling was his astonishing memory and the unusual range of his knowledge that cut across such fields as chemistry, biology, medicine and physics," Lawson said. "That's why he was one of the first researchers to truly understand the dangers and human health implications of the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. And he believed that it was the duty of scientists as responsible citizens to share that knowledge with the public and help them understand the issues."

His leadership in this area, some of which was quite controversial in the highly-charged politics of McCarthyism and the Cold War, required a great deal of personal courage but eventually led to passage of the nuclear test ban treaties of the 1960s, Lawson said. And they would earn Pauling his second Nobel Prize in 1963, for peace. Pauling is the only person who has ever received two unshared Nobel Prizes.

Late in his career, Pauling developed a profound interest in the role of micronutrients such as vitamin C in disease prevention, treatment and optimal health. He christened this field "orthomolecular medicine," which means the right molecule in the right amount. Once again, some of this work was widely criticized and even ridiculed at the time, since it was moving beyond more conventional medical concepts.

But it has since become one of the most exciting new fields of medical study, with the potential for changes in diet, lifestyle and nutrient intake to significantly improve health and prevent or treat disease.

The activities that will take place this year to commemorate Pauling include:

  • An exhibition at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland will run from Jan. 8 to March 31. Titled "Linus Pauling and the 20th Century: Quest for Humanity," it will display texts, photographs and artifacts of Pauling's life as part of its national tour. 
  • OSU will hold a reading of the biographical play "The Essential Bond" on Feb. 27. It was first performed in Pasadena, Calif., in 1999. 
  • An OSU symposium on Pauling's influence on science and society will be held Feb. 28, featuring a keynote address by Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate in chemistry. 
  • The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Lecture in World Peace will be May 14, featuring Betty Williams, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. 
  • OSU will host a symposium on 50 years of structural biology on May 14-15 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the alpha-helix protein structure by Pauling, Corey and Branson. 
  • The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU will host a major international conference on "Diet and Optimum Health" in Portland from May 16-19 during which the $50,000 Linus Pauling Institute Prize for Health Research will be inaugurated. 
  • Several books on Pauling will be published during the Centenary, including "Linus Pauling: a Centenary Celebration"; the updated "Pauling Catalogue" of materials at the OSU Library; and a two-volume anthology of many of Pauling's scientific papers. 
  • Other scientific conferences, including "Nutritional Medicine Today" in Toronto and the annual Orthomolecular Health-Medicine Conference in San Francisco, will also salute Pauling's contributions to the field of orthomolecular medicine.