Pauling, Linus (cont.)

Nonetheless, his scientific research was going well. In 1949, Pauling's team discovered the molecular basis of sickle-cell anemia. He continued to work on the molecular structure of amino acids and, in the early 1950s, determined the large-scale structures of many proteins, the so-called "alpha-helix." He also worked, though unsuccessfully, on the structure of DNA. His many achievements were crowned with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, "for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances."

After winning the Nobel Prize, Pauling focused his attention on peace work, organizing scientists and speaking out against nuclear testing and proliferation, often to great criticism and at remarkable personal cost. His peace activism work was capped in the fall of 1963 with the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 (a year in which no prize had been awarded). The award was greeted with widespread criticism in the press. The lukewarm congratulations of his home institution, Caltech, led to his painful resignation from the school that had been his academic home for more than 40 years.

Pauling spent the next decade as an academic nomad, working at different think tanks and universities. For over twenty years, between 1973 and 1994, Pauling's research focused on a field he termed "orthomolecular medicine," the concept that optimal health could result from ensuring that the right molecules were present in the right amount in the body. He viewed vitamin C as one of the most important of these molecules, oversaw a number of investigations into its effects on diseases, and encouraged the ingestion of daily amounts many times greater than the accepted minimum daily requirement. Many physicians attacked his approach; the medical community criticized his decision to publish a popular book on the subject without prior peer-reviewed scientific publication; and many thought his claims unsubstantiated. Pauling fought back with typical determination. In 1973 he co-founded a California research institute devoted to the study of the health effects of vitamin C and other nutrients. He conducted research there until his death from cancer in 1994, at age 93.

Pauling's long career path led from physics to chemistry to biology to medicine. At every turn he was eager to jump disciplinary fences and explore new territory at the borders. He was attacked for his political beliefs and for going outside of accepted channels in making his results widely known. Nevertheless, in the course of his long career he wrote more than five hundred papers and eleven books, won every important prize awarded in his field, and can be considered the most significant chemist of his time.

Adapted from biographical information provided courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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