Robert Corey did not seem destined for great things. He had worked for years as a
laboratory assistant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, laboring patiently
on the x-ray analyses of everything from porcupine quills to hemoglobin. Despite his
perfectly adequate work, he had been laid off during cutbacks in the Depression, and
had written Pauling asking if he could work in Pasadena for a year. Times were so
bad that he offered to bring his own equipment and even pay his own salary. The timing
could not have been better. Pauling, of course, said yes, but with a caveat; He warned
Corey that there might not be enough money to ever offer him a permanent position.
Corey did not make a strong first impression. He had been crippled as a child and
never fully recovered; he limped badly and used a cane. He looked older than his forty
years, an unprepossessing man with thinning hair and a small dark moustache. He was
shy and retiring. Pauling later described Corey as "a gentle and tender man."
But beneath the surface there were glimmers of a strong, insightful intelligence.
Pauling picked up on it almost immediately. "He [Corey] and I together decided that
he should work on the determination of the structure of some crystals of amino acids
and simple peptides," Pauling said. Then he corrected himself. "When I say that he
and I together made this decision, I may not be quite right. It is not unlikely that
he had already made the decision, and that he arranged to have me agree with him,
in such a way that I would think that we had made the decision together. I learned
later that he was very good at this."