"While my own work at Caltech had nothing to do with protein structure, Pauling used
to talk to me occasionally about his models and what one could learn from them. In
his lecture, he had talked about spirals. In conversation a few days later, I told
him that for me the word "spiral" referred to a curve in a plane. As his polypeptide
coils were three-dimensional figures, I suggested they were better described as "helices."
Pauling's erudition did not stop at the natural sciences. He answered, quite correctly,
that the words "spiral" and "helix" are practically synonymous and can be used almost
interchangeably, but he thanked me for my suggestion because he preferred "helix"
and declared that he would always use it henceforth. Perhaps he felt that by calling
his structure a helix there would be less risk of confusion with the various other
models that had been proposed earlier. In their 1950 short preliminary communication,
Pauling and Corey wrote exclusively about spirals, but in the series of papers published
the following year the spiral had already given way to the helix. There was no going
back. A few years later we had the DNA double helix, not the DNA double spiral. The
formulation of the α-helix was the first and is still one of the greatest triumphs
of speculative model building in molecular biology, and I am pleased that I helped
to give it its name."
Jack Dunitz. "La Primavera." (unpublished manuscript) 2011.
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