After publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, Pauling, his place in chemical history assured, focused his attention away from
physics and toward biology. Over the next 15 years he made vital advances in immunology,
genetics, and determining the structure of proteins. During World War II he helped
to perfect new explosives and rocket propellants and invented a more effective oxygen
meter for submarines. After the war he won a string of prestigious awards, including
a host of honorary degrees and most of the highest honors and medals vailable for
But the highest award of all, the Nobel Prize, seemed to elude him. His name was often
mentioned among possible Nobel candidates in chemistry, but the award itself always
went to someone else (one of Pauling’s former students even won it in 1951). Pauling
reasoned that he was being ignored because Alfred Nobel’s will said specifically that
the prizes were to be given for a single important discovery, while Pauling had reshaped
chemistry through a series of discoveries, creating an edifice of structural chemistry
composed of many parts. "That was the trouble," he later said. "What was the single
great discovery I had made?"
Then, while lecturing at Cornell the fall of 1954, Pauling received a phone call from
a newspaper reporter. "What is your reaction to winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry?"
came the question. Pauling asked what it was for. "Chemistry," came the reply. "No,
what does the citation say?" Pauling asked. He wanted to know which of his many achievements
was being honored. "For research into the nature of the chemical bond," the reporter
read from the newswire, "and its application to the elucidation of complex substances."
Pauling gave a wide grin. The Prize was being awarded to him for everything he had
done from 1928 on. The Nobel officials had found a way to give him a lifetime award.