Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History Narrative  
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The Answer
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In early April, a few days after Crick and Watson submitted their paper for publication, Pauling arrived in Cambridge. After spending the night with Peter, he walked into Crick's office and for the first time saw the model they had wired together out of die-cut metal plates. Crick chattered nervously about the features of the double helix while Pauling scrutinized it. He then examined Franklin's photo of the extended form of the molecule. Watson and Crick waited. Then, "gracefully," Watson remembered, "he gave the opinion that we had the answer."

It was a joyful moment for the two young men and a deflating one for Pauling. He was amazed that this unlikely team, an adolescent postdoc and an elderly graduate student, had come up with so elegant a solution to so important a structure. If they were right, his own model was a monstrous mistake, built inside out with the wrong number of chains. But he recognized now that the Cavendish team was almost certainly right. There was only one thing left for him to do: Show the world how to handle defeat with style.

Pauling left Crick's office and met Bragg for lunch, during which Sir Lawrence vainly tried to restrain his ebullience. After so many years of coming in second, his team had finally beaten Pauling! Later, Pauling joined the Cricks at a pleasant dinner at their house at Portugal Place. Through it all he remained charming and funny and remarkably accepting of the new DNA structure, a true gentleman, both wise enough to recognize defeat and great enough to accept it with good humor. A day or two later both Bragg and Pauling went to the Solvay meeting - an occasional select gathering of the world's top researchers funded by a Belgian industrialist - where Bragg provided the first public announcement of the double helix. Pauling was generous in his support. "Although it is only two months since Professor Corey and I published our proposed structure for nucleic acid, I think that we must admit that it is probably wrong," he told the group. "Although some refinement might be made, I feel that it is very likely that the Watson-Crick structure is essentially correct."

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Audio Clip  Audio: A Big Man. 1997. (0:24) Transcript and More Information

Audio Clip  Audio: Don't Be Afraid to Make Mistakes. 1997. (0:45) Transcript and More Information

See Also: "Linus Pauling Notebook. Solvay Congress 1953" April 1953. 

Click images to enlarge 

Group photo of participants at the ninth Solvay Conference. Brussels, Belgium. April 1953.

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Letter from Linus Pauling to Ava Helen Pauling. April 6, 1953.

"I have seen the King's College nucleic acid pictures, and talked with Watson and Crick, and I think that our structure is probably wrong, and theirs right."

Linus Pauling
April 6, 1953
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