Linus Pauling and The Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History Narrative  
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Pauling was now using the term "resonance" in place of "electron exchange" when writing about the chemical bond, and he was expanding the concept into new areas. Heisenberg had used the electron-exchange idea to account for the interchangeability of electrons; Heitler and London had used it to explain the covalent chemical bond; Pauling and Slater employed it to account for the energy needed to form hybrid bonds like those in the tetrahedral carbon atom. Now Pauling proposed that when certain criteria were met, resonance could exist between the ionic and covalent forms of a molecule. Hydrogen chloride, for example, could be viewed either as a hydrogen linked to a chlorine atom through a purely covalent bond or as a positively charged hydrogen ion and a negatively charged chloride ion linked with a purely ionic bond. The actual molecule, Pauling proposed, is a sort of hybrid, a structure that resonates between the two alternative extremes. And whenever that happened, "whenever there is resonance between the two forms," Pauling said, "the structure is stabilized."

For Pauling, the entire chemical landscape now began to shift. Resonance, he realized excitedly, could be applied as well to the relationship between single and double bonds — they did not have to be one or the other but could resonate between the two forms, leading to a stabilized partial double bond with its own peculiar properties. Resonance explained all kinds of structures that didn't fit into the old classical cubbyholes.

Virtually all of chemistry could be reevaluated in the light of this new idea, and Pauling set about doing it through the early 1930's. By applying his resonance ideas to various types of chemical bonds, then cross-checking and amending his theoretical results to fit what was known empirically about bond lengths and strengths, Pauling was able to produce a string of papers that set chemistry on a new course.

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Audio Clip  Audio: Research by Walter Heitler and Fritz London. January 17, 1983. (1:15) Transcript and More Information

Audio Clip  Audio: The Joy of Chemistry. 1977. (1:10) Transcript and More Information

See Also: "Resonance." July 29, 1946. 

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Naphthalene figure prepared for use in the Nature of the Chemical Bond. 1939.

Berkeley Lectures. February - March 1932.

"Heisenberg has discussed the coupled double harmonic oscillator, and has shown that the ordinary rules of quantization lead to two non-combining sets of states in one of which the electrons are in phase and out of phase. The energy of the system is successively transferred from one to the other -- resonance!"

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