CORVALLIS - During 2001 Oregon State University will observe the Linus Pauling Centenary - the 100th anniversary of the birth of Linus Pauling - with a year of activities that celebrate the life and accomplishments of the greatest scholar ever to emerge from its halls, and one of the most important scientists of the millennium.
This two-time Nobel laureate, scientist and humanitarian was born on Feb. 28, 1901. He was a graduate in chemical engineering, class of 1923, from what was then Oregon Agricultural College. Pauling died in 1994 at the age of 93, and OSU today is the repository of his papers, which are an important source of information for researchers in many fields.
"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," Lawson said. "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."
The activities that will take place next year to commemorate Pauling include:
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 at Special Collections and the Linus Pauling Exhibition 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, including topaz and mica."
His later work, Lawson said, addressed organic substances and led to the eventual discovery of the structure of proteins critical to cellular and life functions. This set the state for the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, who called Pauling the major founder of the modern science of molecular biology. With his discovery of the molecular cause of sickle-cell anemia, Pauling introduced 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 un-shared Nobel Prizes.
Late in Pauling's long and varied career, he developed a profound interest in the role of micronutrients such as vitamin C in the 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.
At OSU, one of the legacies of Pauling's work in orthomolecular medicine is the Linus Pauling Institute, a group of prominent researchers studying the role of micronutrients and phytochemicals in disease prevention and treatment. When the institute sponsors a major conference next year as part of the Pauling Centenary, some of the leading scientists from around the world will travel to Oregon to outline their latest findings in this field.
"Linus Pauling was an extraordinary scientist and visionary humanitarian," Lawson said. "OSU is proud of its close and long association with him, and we're very excited about the array of events we've developed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth."
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Stephen Lawson, 541-737-5080