Linus Pauling and The Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History Narrative  
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The Langmuir Prize
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To provide support and encouragement for chemists early in their careers, Dr. A. C. Langmuir (the brother of the physical chemist Irving Langmuir) in 1931 began funding an annual prize of one thousand dollars, to be awarded to the best young chemist in the nation. He left the selection to the American Chemical Society (ACS), the field's leading professional association. The first year the Langmuir Prize was offered, former ACS president A. A. Noyes made sure that Linus Pauling, his favorite young chemist, was nominated.

In August 1931, Pauling was thrilled to learn that he had won. The prize recognized Pauling's unusual productivity and promise-at age thirty he had already published more than fifty papers covering a wide range of theoretical and experimental topics-and was particularly rich award for those days, equivalent to roughly one quarter of Pauling's annual salary.

It also provided the ACS and Caltech with the opportunity for some publicity. Pauling soon found himself a minor celebrity, interviewed by newspaper writers from Portland to New York, asked for photographs, and featured in magazines. Scientific American ran a large picture of him looking serious and scholarly and described him as the "prodigy of American science." Noyes told reporters that Pauling was "the most promising young man with whom I have ever come in contact in my many years of teaching." A. C. Langmuir gushed that he was "a rising star, who may yet win the Nobel Prize."

At an evening plenary session of the national ACS meeting in Buffalo, New York, that September, Pauling loped across the stage to receive the award from the society's president to the sound of enthusiastic applause from two thousand of the nation's leading chemists. A cartoon of the occasion, drawn for a meeting newsletter, showed a tousle-haired young Pauling eagerly stretching his hands out toward a bag marked "$1000." His only regret, he said later, was that his mother had not been there to see him win the award.

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Audio Clip  Audio: The Talented and Flamboyant Pauling. 1977. (2:40) Transcript and More Information

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See Also: "Chemical Crystal’s Secrets Revealed by Dr. L. Pauling." October 25, 1931. 

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Letter from Moses Gomberg to Linus Pauling. July 8, 1931.


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"Pauling Will Accept Cash." September 2, 1931.

"I might well have become egotistical as a result [of the Langmuir Prize].... But...I think that I just said I shouldn’t let this go to my head. I shouldn’t think I’m really better than other people even though I do this one thing better than other people."

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