But Pauling made it appear otherwise.
By the fall of 1951, he was ready to declare victory. Despite the fact that the British
crystallographers were marshaling a good deal of evidence against Pauling's models
for muscle, feather rachis, and the gamma helix, despite the finding in Bernal's lab
that the alpha helix played a minor role in globular proteins (if it played a role
at all), despite the fact that the Courtaulds people were questioning his work on
synthetic polypeptides, and despite the growing belief that the gamma helix did not
exist in nature, Pauling started working on a publicity blitz that would make his
name synonymous with the discovery of the structure of proteins. He decided to play
up the work in presentations at the largest gathering of chemists ever held, the World
Chemical Conclave in New York City. The September gathering of 18,000 researchers
from 42 nations (encompassing meetings of the International Congress of Pure and Applied
Chemistry and celebrating the American Chemical Society's Diamond Jubilee) was a perfect
platform for making a splash. To get ready, Pauling helped the Caltech news department
write a six-page release touting his protein work as an important step toward "the
secret of life." The American Chemical Society publicists, aware of Pauling's personal
charisma and speaking ability, picked it up and made the protein work a centerpiece
in their efforts to draw media attention.
As a result, Pauling stole the show. The most heavily attended event of the Conclave
was Pauling's address on protein structures. Reporters from major newspapers and a
photographer for Life magazine were in the crowd. Pauling gave a flawless performance. The next day the
headline in the New York Times read, "Chemists Unravel Protein's Secrets – Aid to
Fight on Diseases – First Inroads on Mysterious Protoplasm – May Solve Basic Riddles."
Two weeks later, the 5 million readers of Life opened their new issues to find an
enormous photo of Pauling, a big grin on his face, pointing to his space-filling model
of the alpha helix. The headline read, "Chemists Solve a Great Mystery."