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and his belief in molecular structure to test old theories, devise new experiments, and come up with new insights. During the next five years he did just that, presenting his results in a series of groundbreaking papers on the nature of the chemical bond.
But his following papers were different. In them, Pauling turned away from rigorous mathematical proofs of his ideas, relying instead on his intuitive understanding of physics and chemistry to guide him. He developed his own style, using the best of wave mechanics theory with hard data about molecular structure from X-ray crystallography.
Of all the world's scientists, only Pauling could at that time in the 1930s take these two pieces of the puzzle and use one to clarify the other. When he came up with a new theory about the chemical bond, he could immediately test it by comparing his thought-structures with real ones
Pauling lecturing at Caltech in 1935. His energetic, funny, and informal way of teaching won the hearts of generations of students.
discovered in his crystallography laboratory. When a crys-tallographer came up with a puzzling bit of hard data, Pauling could decide whether to heed it or not by passing it through the test of quantum mechanics. No one else could blend physics and chemistry, theory and laboratory results like Pauling could, dancing gracefully between one and the other. No one else embodied the proper balance of memory, understanding, imagination, and hard work.
Pauling's approach worked especially well for mathematics-shy chemists. He wrote his papers without complicated equations, depending instead on applying what he knew to the questions that chemists most wanted answered. He presented his ideas in ways that fit with a chemist's understanding of nature, using real-world examples and freely borrowing what he was learning about the structure of molecules to check his theories and make his points.
Historians would later credit Heitler, London, Slater, and Pauling with developing this approach to the chemical bond (in later years it would be called, in their honor, the HLSP theory). But most chemists would remember only Pauling, not only because he applied it to more molecules than the others, but because he alone among them was a chemist, able to communicate his results in a way that chemists understood.
By 1936, Pauling had used his approach to explain everything from the structure of benzene to the properties of metals, and he felt that he understood almost everything he needed to know about the chemical bond. His self-confidence, which had been growing since he went to Oregon Agricultural College, now assumed legendary proportions. He was the brightest young star in the world of chemistry, and he behaved like it. He had a new private office, a larger laboratory, and twice the number of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows of any other Caltech chemist. He traveled often, teaching one term each year at Berkeley (where he became friends with G. N. Lewis, whose papers had first interested him in the chemical bond) and giving lectures around the nation on what was now being called "quantum chemistry."
Pauling had always been a very good teacher, but now he had a bravado all his own. He was "a bouncy young extrovert," as one student saw him during a visit to the University of Chicago in the mid-1930s, "wholly informal in dress and appearance. He bounded into the room, already crowded with students eager to see and hear the Great Man, spread himself over the seminar table next to the blackboard and, running his hand through an unruly shock of hair, gestured to the students to come closer. . . . The talk started with Pauling leaping off the table and rapidly writing a list of five topics on which he could speak singly or all together. He described each in a few pithy sentences, including racy impressions of the workers involved."
Through it all, he retained a wonderful appreciation for the equality of all people. He was as informal, charming, and funny with student dishwashers in a laboratory as he was with august professors heading the university. He discriminated not on the basis of title, but of intelligence: His only requirements for instant friendship seemed to be that the person be as wide awake, open-minded, and (almost) as quick-witted as he was.
Still, not everyone was charmed. Pauling's rapid rise rankled some older members of the Caltech chemistry division. To them, the young man—whom they still remembered as a penniless graduate student—appeared to have become something of a prima donna. Pauling's enormous self-assurance, his new love of parties and travel, and his habit of lampooning less brilliant scientists were part of the problem. To some, Pauling's ebullient, irreverent manner was undignified. There was more than a bit of jealousy involved, but more important were the concerns that Pauling was not a team player. During the financial crisis of the Great Depression, when money was hard to find at
Caltech, Pauling seemed interested in pushing for funds only for his own rapidly expanding laboratory, without thinking about the needs of the whole division.
The anti-Pauling concerns came to a head when Noyes developed cancer in the spring of 1936, bringing up the question of a successor. "King Arthur" believed that when choosing a leader for a research group his scientific potential was more important than his seniority. Of all his faculty, he believed that only Pauling had the creative spark to open new fields of research, the talent to attract much-needed new funds, and the energy to continue pushing Caltech's chemistry department to the forefront of American science. Noyes was not blind to Pauling's faults—he called him "restless, ambitious and self-seeking" in a letter to a friend—but the balance sheet favored Pauling. Noyes wanted the young star to succeed him as head of the Caltech chemistry division.
After Noyes's death, however, Pauling's ascent to the chairmanship of the division was not a foregone conclusion. The older faculty immediately brought Pauling's "dictatorial tendencies" to the attention of Caltech's head, Robert Millikan—who thought Pauling too young for a chairmanship in any case—and made certain that Pauling was the only member of the chemistry division not asked to be an honorary pallbearer at Noyes's funeral. Pauling's appointment as chemistry division chair was delayed for months, a development that hurt and confused Pauling. He had put all of his time into doing some of the best chemistry research in the world. It was true that he had not cultivated friendships with many of the other professors. But how could his success lead to such a reaction? He held proudly aloof during this period, waiting for Millikan to come to him with an offer. But despite Noyes's wishes, Millikan refused to make Pauling chair of the division.
It took the intervention of one of the most powerful men in science to break the impasse. Warren Weaver was the head of the natural sciences division of the world's wealthiest philanthropy, the Rockefeller Foundation, a position that made him what one historian called "the chief banker for American science." Rockefeller money built universities and careers and, especially during the Great Depression, was critical to keeping many science programs afloat, including those at Caltech.
Weaver had a particular interest in Pauling, because he recognized that the young chemists abilities might help him reach a treasured goal: to successfully apply the techniques of chemistry and physics to the field of biology. Weaver believed that biology was out of date. He thought it needed intellectual rigor and new experimental techniques focused on the molecular workings of the body. If the molecules and reactions that led to life could be described and controlled, he believed, it might be possible to create a superior race of humans that were more rational, more intelligent. He even coined a phrase to describe the field he intended to fund: molecular biology.
Pauling's brilliant work had caught Weaver's eye in the early 1930s, and by the time Noyes died, he had already used great amounts of research money to turn the young man's interests from the structure of minerals to important biological molecules such as proteins. Weaver also felt that Pauling should be in charge of the Caltech chemistry program. So, after months dragged by, Weaver decided to take matters into his own hands. He took a train to Pasadena, talked with both Pauling and Millikan, and convinced them both, for the good of the Institute, to give a little ground and start talking to each other. A short time after returning to New York, Weaver received a letter from Pauling. "After talking with you I went to Professor Millikan determined to straighten out our misunderstandings. We reached an agreement with very little difficulty and I am sure that everyone is pleased."
In 1937, at the age of 36, Linus Pauling was named chairman of one of the most important chemistry programs in the world. As it turned out, the worries of the older faculty members proved overblown. Under Pauling's leadership, a great era in chemistry began at Caltech. Holmes Sturdivant, his former graduate student, became his right-hand man, efficiently handling most routine matters. Pauling directed the big picture, traveling, lecturing, raising money, and overseeing the general direction of research. All the major decisions within the chemistry division were made by majority vote, ensuring that Pauling's alleged "dictatorial" tendencies never became a problem. His friendship with Weaver kept Rockefeller money flowing in. Students flocked to Pasadena, eager to work with the man whose achievements had made him one of the world's most famous chemists. Despite the grumbling of some faculty members, Pauling's ability to attract money and his hands-off style of administration kept the division running smoothly and growing quickly. And with all that, he continued to make brilliant discoveries, either on his own or in conjunction with one of his many graduate students or postdoctoral fellows.
In the fall of 1937, the new chairman and Ava Helen left Pasadena to spend four months at Cornell University in
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