Pauling cared deeply about teaching, enjoyed it, and wanted to make it come alive
for students. He believed a chemical education should start with a sense of wonder.
"I know of no chemist who was attracted to this field because of theoretical chemistry,"
he wrote his superiors at Caltech. "Instead, it is an interest in chemicals and their
reactions which first attracted the chemist." In his own lectures he used chemical
props and tricks like a magician, showing students how chemistry worked rather than
telling them. He proposed giving students drawings of molecules "as we now picture
them" to give them a concrete feel for what they were studying. Such molecular drawings,
now common in most chemistry textbooks, had not been used before.
And he was a great lecturer, a "bouncy young extrovert," as one student described
Pauling in the mid-1930s, "wholly informal in dress and appearance. He bounded into
the room, already crowded with students eager to see the Great Man, spread himself
over the seminar table next to the blackboard and, running his hand through an unruly
shock of hair, gestured to the students to come closer. . . The talk started with
Pauling leaping off the table and rapidly writing a list of five topics on which he
could speak singly or all together. He described each in a few pithy sentences, including
racy impressions of the workers involved."
More important than his lecturing style was Pauling’s vision of a new chemistry built
on a new foundation of quantum mechanics. Pauling had learned chemistry as a relatively
loose aggregate of procedures and observations; now, he thought, it could be taught
as a unified science with a firm and consistent underlying theory. His own ideas about
the chemical bond could be used to explain a wide variety of phenomena, from thermodynamics
to crystal structures, from organic to inorganic chemistry, providing a new level
of order and sense. He began organizing his classes around these basic themes.
The result would be one of the most influential books in the history of science.