The notebooks of Linus Pauling
June 16, 2003 6:13 AM   Subscribe

How does a genius think? Forty-seven of Linus Pauling's research notebooks, spanning seven decades and topics from AIDS to zunyite, have been scanned, indexed, and posted by Oregon State University. The random musings and labroom jottings of a Nobel laureate and one of the towering figures of science of the twentieth century just fascinate me, even if I can't follow most of the chemistry; in less high-minded moments, I can contemplate how bad his handwriting was.
posted by snarkout (17 comments total)
[this is good]
posted by PrinceValium at 7:07 AM on June 16, 2003

Neat stuff. How I love the Internet for making manuscripts available without traveling to the library with the actual holdings.

For people who are, like me, not able to get quite so much out of the chemistry stuff, I suggest going to the alphabetical subject index under A and checking out the many items under "Autobiographical entries." Fun!
posted by redfoxtail at 7:23 AM on June 16, 2003

This is great! It's cool to see his writings about some of his great discoveries like the alpha helix, but then also his writings in relation to his Nobel Peace Prize. Last I checked he is the only person to receive 2 individual Nobel prizes. Thanks snarkout.
posted by Eekacat at 7:45 AM on June 16, 2003

Fantastic stuff. Great link, snarkout.

I'm surprised at how consise and organized most of the pages are. I supposed the mad scribbling scientist is just a stereotype...
posted by jpoulos at 8:19 AM on June 16, 2003

(I don't think his handwriting is so bad!)
posted by redfoxtail at 8:37 AM on June 16, 2003

I hope that we'll see a good deal more of this sort of thing about geniuses in different fields. I can think of a lot of people whose notebooks I'd rather see, though I'm sure Pauling's notebooks are fascinating to people more acquainted with his work. It's good to have unfettered access to source materials.
posted by anapestic at 8:38 AM on June 16, 2003

Great, here I am on monday morning trying to decypher some convoluted actionscript that I didn't write, and along comes this to make me feel even MORE stupid...
posted by badzen at 8:42 AM on June 16, 2003

This is one of the better primary source sites I've seen.
posted by rudyfink at 9:18 AM on June 16, 2003

Last I checked he is the only person to receive 2 individual Nobel prizes.

Marie Curie won two (basic radiation work in physics and the discovery of radium in chemistry) as well, as did John Bardeen (transistors and superconductivity, both in physics). And now that I'm checking the Nobel web site, I see that Frederick Sanger also won two (insulin structure and protein sequence determination by Sanger degradation, both in chemistry).

Pauling's combination of prizes was certainly unique; he's the only recipient in both a science and a humanity. About his '54 prize: I don't think many people realize the importance of Pauling's work. His elucidation of the nature of the chemical bond is easily one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:12 AM on June 16, 2003

mr_roboto, Marie Curie shared her 1903 prize with Henri Becquerel. Frederick Sanger shared his 1980 prize with Paul Berg and Walter Gilbert. Both of John Bardeen's Prizes were shared. There certainly have been others that have won multiple prizes, but Linus Pauling is the only one that I know that has won 2 individual prizes (i.e. not shared, at least that's what I meant when I wrote individual)

I agree about the importance of his work in chemical bonding. The alpha helix of protein structure lead to the discovery of the structure of DNA (which he almost was first on as well).
posted by Eekacat at 11:41 AM on June 16, 2003

Ahhhh... that's what you meant by "individual". I thought you were making a distinction between prizes given to individuals and those given to organizations (the Red Cross has won a bunch of peace prizes, for instance).
posted by mr_roboto at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2003

"When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect - but do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate - may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical - always think for yourself."
Linus Pauling

the megadoses debate is still quite open -- the Pauling way is definetely extreme, but at worst professor Pauling, a truly great scientist and humanitarian, convinced many of us to manufacture expensive urine. He may be popular as the funny old academic/ascorbic acid crusader, but his scientific work is much more important than that. But I agree that the Pauling Institute made mistakes in the past, during the professor's twilight years and after his death
posted by matteo at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2003

As a recent OSU alum I must tell you all that I am a recent OSU alum.
posted by iamck at 8:01 PM on June 16, 2003

As an OSU undergrad, I have had the opportunity to see for myself the immense amount of material related to Pauling that has been horded at our campus. Hundreds upon hundreds of items such as checking receipts were retained by his family. The guy must have been more than a little obsessive, but it's apparent that a certain susceptibility for obsession is a healthy (useful?) quality for any research scientist to have. His preferred reading material on a trip to California? The Chemistry and Physics Handbook, which is basically a gigantic compendium of all practical scientific knowledge in tabular form. Must have been a cool dude to hang with.

As a side note, Pauling isn't the only famous graduate of OSU...Douglas Engelbart was the inventor of the computer mouse. And then there were all of the wonderful people on my floor this year...who invented something known as not drinking at college. Revolutionary!
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 11:47 PM on June 17, 2003

A friend of mine fact checked and proofread for Mildred and Victor Goertzel in the early 80s, who were long time acquaintances of Pauling's--Mildred Goertzel was a personal friend of Ava Pauling. They had been working on a biography of him since 1962 , which was before he took up the Vitamin C crusade when they met and befriended Arthur Robinson. Victor died and then Mildred developed Alzheimer's--their work was finished by their son, Ted. He talks about it here--it's a bit weird, what with the whole Rorshach test angle and all--but you pick up a taste of what I was hearing from Rich.

The latter day Linus Pauling apparently was a megalomaniac crank. Although they shared his views, they apparently didn't seem to think he was or did anything extraordinary in his politics. I was told that Ava Pauling died of cancer, died in great pain--pain which was aamplified by injections of megadoses of Vitamin C continued long after it was apparent her condition was terminal--at her husband's behest. Mildred evidently had hard feelings towards Pauling for the painhe put his wife through. He may have been a brilliant chemist in his youth but the later Pauling is not an attractive person--note that in the link to the Pauling Symposium that Ted Goertzel is not the only biographer to express ambivalence abouth the great man.

This is the problem with hero worship--we seem to need idols and paragons but they often as not turn out to be all too human upon closer acquaintance. Don't follow leaders/Watch the parking meters--you know the drill.
posted by y2karl at 12:37 AM on June 18, 2003

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