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."