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Scientist of the Month (Pauling Edition)


By Aditya Kapur


Too often it happens that scientists forget their humble beginnings in lieu of progress and advancement. It is so common for us students to curse the very figures of intellect whose discoveries led our civilisation in this direction of luxury and unfortunate ignorance. In an attempt to rejuvenate every Vasant Valley student’s knowledge about the scientists whose legacies have boosted us here, the science magazine has launched an initiative to write about any scientist whose achievements, accomplishments and life we feel is compelling and interesting.

“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

-Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling

This quote by American chemist, biochemist, peace activist and educator Linus Pauling encapsulates the true power of science and the maxim by which Pauling lived his life.Working in various fields from quantum chemistry to activism, Pauling ensured that he was able to leave his mark in all. With a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Peace, he holds numerous Nobel Prize records to his name, including being the only person to win two unshared Nobel prizes and only the second person after Marie Curie to win two Nobel prizes in two different categories.

Pauling’s keen interest in the sciences developed at a young, impressionable age, when he was inspired by his friends to explore the world of chemistry. After pursuing his higher education from Oregon State University and California Institute of Technology, he studied under Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrödinger, which served as an inspiration and influence for Pauling to work on (and pioneer) the field of quantum chemistry, an incorporation of quantum mechanics in chemistry.

Through the course of his scientific career, Pauling worked on topics such as the nature of the chemical bond and the characteristics of biological molecules such as haemoglobin. Pauling was also able to explain the phenomena of ‘resonance’ in the benzene ring in accordance to the theory of quantum mechanics, a term which had been earlier explained by chemist Friedrich Kekule. His research on the nature of chemical bonding also earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954.

Along with his research work and teaching in the scientific field, Pauling was also an activist, for which he won the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize. Robert Oppenheimer offered Pauling the position of chief of the Chemistry Division of the Manhattan Project(the project which led to the development of the first ever nuclear weapons), an offer which he declined. Pauling further worked with Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell to inform the public of the danger of nuclear weapons and the need to eliminate nuclear artillery. One of the most important results of his anti-nuclear weapon movement was the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty between USA and the USSR in 1963. Pauling further advocated against the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War by making speeches and taking part in silent, non-violent protests.

 “If there is a need for a universal hero, it is easy to see why Linus Pauling would be nominated for the role. In many ways he seemed larger than life.”

-Ted and Ben Goertzel

Indeed, Pauling was a man larger than life. He worked passionately to continue on his quest for science and selflessly to give back to the world. His efforts reflected in all his actions and his legacy. No doubt he is one of the greatest scientists of all time, in the same league as the likes of Einstein and Newton.

Rohil Bahl