Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins: A Documentary History Narrative  
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Follow the Money
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Pauling was not interested – at least not at first. Yes, he was interested in almost everything, but he had little background in biology. He had made his reputation in the borderline area between physics and chemistry, studying the basic forces that hold atoms together into molecules. He loved rocks and crystals, and wanted to understand their molecular structure. His current work on mineral structures and theoretical chemistry was going very well and he wanted to pursue it.

He knew that Weaver was enthused about biological molecules and Pauling had made some vague statements about potential research in the field, but he used the first grant he received from the Rockefeller Foundation – a generous twenty thousand a year for two years during the depths of the Depression, enough to pay a full time assistant and five postdoctoral fellows, plus the meters, crystals, films, and other specialized equipment they needed – mostly to study inorganic crystals. By the fall of 1933, that grant was about to run out. Weaver made an appointment to visit Caltech and to talk with Pauling about the future.

Pauling prepared by writing a six-page proposal outlining a chemical attack on the structure of life substances like hemoglobin and chlorophyll. It was all a little hazy and hopeful, and left room for Pauling to work on whatever he wanted.

When they were face to face, however, Weaver pinned him down. He told Pauling bluntly that structural work in general organic chemistry would not be funded by the Rockefeller Foundation; money would flow only for work with a direct bearing on biology. Pauling strengthened his grant proposal. After reviewing it, the Rockefeller board gave him funds – but only for a single year. Pauling, basically, had twelve months to show that he could switch his fast-growing research enterprise away from the structure of rocks and toward the chemistry of life.

Pauling was not quite ready to give up his minerals. In early 1934 he tried to get funding from the Geological Society of America to support further inorganic research, but the group turned him down. The Rockefeller money became even more important. Pauling had used the earlier grant to expand his laboratory, buying good equipment and staffing up with bright young researchers to help him do lab work, analyze results, and cowrite papers. He needed money to keep it going. The Depression was shutting the door on other possible sources of support.

"It seemed pretty clear to me that I would have difficulty in getting further support from the Rockefeller Foundation unless I became interested in chemistry in relation to biology," he wrote. So he did what he felt he needed to do. He followed the money, shifting his research away from minerals and toward biochemistry.

"The foregoing episode," he later noted dryly, "suggests that granting agencies can influence the support of science."

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Audio Clip  Audio: The Move to Study Hemoglobin. January 17, 1983. (1:07) Transcript and More Information

Video Clip  Video: Rockefeller Funding for Hemoglobin Research. May 20, 1986. (1:37) Transcript and More Information

See Also: "Brief Account of Research in Chemistry Supported by Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation." October 24, 1933. 
See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Warren Weaver. January 8, 1934. 

Click images to enlarge 

Portrait of Warren Weaver, 1960s.

Page 1
Letter from Warren Weaver to Linus Pauling. December 19, 1933.

"In developing structural chemistry we have not drawn a line between inorganic and organic substances, and at first most of our work, covering compounds of all elements, dealt with organic compounds to only a small extent. However, our methods have been found to be particularly valuable in the treatment of the complicated problems of organic chemistry, and we are now devoting the major part of our effort to those problems."

Linus Pauling
October 24, 1933
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