European physicists Arnold Sommerfeld (left) and Niels Bohr were among those who revolutionized physics during the 1920s by refounding it on new ideas about the structure and behavior of atoms.

made the "quantum leap" Bohr's model demanded, one that was deemed impossible by classical physics? And how could negatively charged electrons circle a positively charged nucleus without losing energy, as classical physics demanded of moving, charged bodies? Bohr's work raised almost as many questions as it answered. While the old, classical physics did not seem to work at the level of the atom, neither, in the mid-1920s, did Bohr's. During the time Pauling was studying the field at Caltech, "It looked for a while," as one contemporary observer wrote, "as though either the physicists or physics itself had become completely insane."

It would take a new synthesis called quantum mechanics to solve the conundrum.

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