Proteins were important to Pauling, but so were other things. In the late 1930s he
was publishing at a dizzying rate, a new paper every few weeks, then a book as well,
on topics ranging from molecular structures to quantum mechanics. In late 1937 he
was rewarded with the chairmanship of the chemistry division at Caltech, a signature
honor for someone so young (Pauling was thirty-six years old). His growing fame as
a chemical theorist led to an invitation in late 1937 to spend several months at Cornell
University as the George Fisher Baker lecturer, a prestigious appointment that provided
him time to work on the manuscript of another book, this time a summary of his work
on the nature of the chemical bond.
When he returned to Caltech in early 1938, he found that Corey had made astonishing
progress on the structure of amino acids. He turned out to be a treasure in the lab,
focused, disciplined, and able to spot and train talented assistants. Corey had motivation,
too: He was working for more than scientific satisfaction; he was trying to earn a
permanent job during very hard economic times. He worked day and night on solving
the structure of the simplest amino acid, glycine, and was getting close to a final
structure. When he published his results, it marked a minor milestone in the history
of protein research: the first amino acid in history to be described in full structural
detail, with each atom precisely located. Corey, it turned out, was a master x-ray
crystallographer. Pauling, pleased, set him to work next on diketopiperazine, a two-glycine
dipeptide. Then he extended Corey's contract, providing him with a steady salary and
more research support.
Corey became Pauling's right-hand man in the laboratory. His even-tempered, deliberate,
logical precision was a perfect complement to Pauling's theoretical leaps, chemical
intuition, and tendency toward salesmanship. Corey was cautious where Pauling was
bold, introspective where Pauling was brash, reticent where Pauling was impulsive.
Pauling would brainstorm big theoretical breakthroughs. Corey would grind out the
data needed to support them. It was a perfect match.