Linus Pauling, his wife Ava Helen, and his two-year-old son Linus Junior moved into
a small rental house two blocks from the Caltech campus. His first office was nothing
more than a desk in the corner of the x-ray lab, from which he could directly oversee
the activities of his first official graduate student, a diligent young chemist fresh
from Texas named J. Holmes Sturdivant. The small x-ray lab was dedicated to using a new technology called x-ray crystallography
for the investigation of the structure of molecules in crystal form.
Pauling began preparing for his first course as an assistant professor–"An Introduction
to Wave Mechanics with Chemical Applications"–by writing out 250 pages of notes in
longhand. He would later turn them into a book on the subject.
Wave mechanics was of special interest to Pauling. Although trained as a chemist,
he had spent his time in Europe studying theoretical physics — a passion that ran
so deep he had seriously considered switching from chemistry to physics. The science
he learned in Munich, Copenhagen and Zurich was a new approach to the field called
quantum physics. Pauling learned about it directly from its discoverers Niels Bohr,
Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli, and from its greatest teacher, Arnold Sommerfeld. Schrödinger’s approach, based on the physics of waves, especially interested Pauling
because he saw that it might throw new light on questions he had pondered since he
was an undergraduate: What forces held atoms together to form molecules? How did those
forces give the molecules particular shapes and qualities?