Linus Pauling is the only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes. This web resource
celebrates the first of these, the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It offers students,
teachers, scientists and interested members of the public access to an unusually rich,
easily navigated documentary history of a central achievement in the history of science
— an achievement that also ensured Linus Pauling’s reputation as the most influential
chemist of the twentieth century.
The Prize was a long time coming. By 1954, Pauling had amassed an unprecedented string
of achievements: He rebuilt chemistry on a new foundation of quantum physics; made
seminal discoveries in x-ray crystallography, inorganic and organic chemistry, immunology,
biochemistry and physical chemistry; earned a place as a founding father of molecular
biology; become the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences;
written roughly 300 scientific papers and three of the century's most influential
chemistry books; and expanded the boundaries of his discipline from atomic physics
to genetic medicine. He had been mentioned as a leading candidate for the Prize for
more than two decades prior to 1954. Instead of winning, however, he watched as a
procession of sometimes younger, often less significant chemists — including one of
his students — picked up the chemistry Nobel.
By 1954 the Nobel Commitee finally awarded him the Prize "For research into the nature
of the chemical bond . . . and its application to the elucidation of complex substances."
Nobels are usually awarded for a single outstanding discovery. Pauling's, by contrast,
was a lifetime achievement award.
"The nature of the chemical bond" was the broad field of research that Pauling had
helped pioneer when he was a postgraduate fellow in 1926-27, then carried through
to what he considered completion with publication of one of history’s most important
scientific books, "The Nature of the Chemical Bond," in 1939.
This web resource focuses on those critical years, and the discoveries that moved
chemistry into the twentieth century.