In 1937, following the death of Arthur Amos Noyes, Linus Pauling was named chairman
of the Division of Chemistry at Caltech. He was just 36 years old. But he was, by
then, one of the most dynamic and productive scientists in the world. He had been
made a full professor by Caltech some years before, had become the youngest person
ever elected to the National Academy of Science, oversaw more graduate students and
postdoctoral fellows than any other Caltech chemistry faculty member, and had won
generous research grants for his work. A steady flow of important papers streamed
from his laboratory.
He traveled often now, teaching one term each academic year at Berkeley, where he
now had become a good friend of G. N. Lewis; teaching a term at MIT, and giving lectures
at a variety of schools and programs across the nation.
When he was asked by Cornell University to give a series of lectures, it seemed like
just another opportunity to spread the word about his brand of chemistry. But the
annual George Fisher Baker lectures at Cornell were something more prestigious than
the norm. For one thing, each Baker lecture series was edited into a slim book published
by Cornell University Press.