Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nobel Prize Winner - Linus Pauling

Linus C. Pauling was a prolific American chemist, two-time Nobel Prizewinner, and peace activist. He was a forerunner in the study of quantum chemistry and molecular biology.

Pauling was born in Oregon, on the west coast of America, on February 28, 1901. At a young age he had a thirst for knowledge and loved to read. A childhood friend's chemical laboratory led to his lifelong interest in chemistry.

After graduation from Oregon State University with a chemical engineering degree, and later with a Ph. D. in physical chemistry and mathematical physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he began his career in chemistry. He was awarded a assistant professorship, and soon thereafter, a full professorship at Caltech. During those five years, he published about 50 scientific papers. By 1932, he introduced the concept of electronegativity as related to chemical bonding.

His work in chemical bonding led to his 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Shortly after World War II he began taking a stance in nuclear activism. He realized the impact of nuclear proliferation and widespread radioactive fallout dangers and in 1958 presented the United Nations with a petition calling for the end of nuclear weapon testing. It was due to this action that the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. On the day the treat went into force, Pauling was busy accepting his second Nobel Prize, this time for Peace.

Pauling holds the unique distinction of winning two Nobel prizes in two separate fields of study. Madame Curie also won two Nobel prizes, but they were both in Chemistry. Ironically, both winners won both of their prizes eight years apart -- Curie in 1903 and 1911; Pauling in 1954 and 1962.

On March 6, 2008, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a four-stamp series entitled American Scientists. Featured on the stamps are theoretical physicist John Bardeen, co-inventor of the transistor; biochemist Gerty Cori, researcher on how cells metabolize food; astronomer Edwin Hubble, researcher into our universe; and Pauling.

Pauling's stamp features a background dotted with red-blood cells. One of Pauling's key findings was that sickle cell anemia was caused by a abnormal form of hemoglobin in red blood cells. This was a key finding that helped identify sickle cell anemia as a molecular disease.

Late in life, Pauling advocated the controversial advice that mega-doses of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals would prevent disease and lead to healthier lives. Most scientists have labeled this as medical quackery and a majority of studies have disproved this theory. Regardless of the veracity of this claim, no one can deny that Linus Pauling is one of the greatest chemical scientists of all time.

Updated from reader's comments, March 1, 2008

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