Pauling might well have buckled under the strain of his administrative work if it
wasn't for his long-time colleague Robert Corey. As Pauling's war-time responsibilities grew, he realized it was impossible for
him to manage the propellants project while still pursuing his own research. In response
to this realization, he appointed Corey administrative coordinator of the project.
Corey, typically a quiet and introspective individual, rose to the task admirably,
effectively managing work across several laboratories and dozens of researchers.
Years later, Pauling would recall that Corey proved to be exactly what he and the
With Corey shouldering the brunt of the desk work, Pauling found he had some time
to devote to his own section of the propellant project. In 1943 he began work creating
a powder that could remain usable for long periods of time. Explosive powders and
propellants contain nitric acid, a component which degrades over time into nitrates
and nitrogen oxides. Left unchecked, these degraded compounds can rise to dangerous
levels and eventually cause the powder to spontaneously ignite. During World War
II, diphenylamine was used to stabilize most explosives. Unfortunately, it too decomposed
quickly in propellants, leading to the destabilization of the explosive. With the
U.S. military coordinating the movement of millions of tons of weapons and supplies
throughout Europe, Africa, and Eastern Asia, it was difficult to monitor the age of
unexpended ordnance, leading to caches of dangerously decomposed explosive powders.
This, of course, proved hazardous for soldiers and had the potential to cost the war
effort a great deal of manpower and supplies.
Pauling and his research team at Caltech chose to tackle the problem. Through their
analysis of data provided by private and military research institutions, they found
that dinitrodiphenylamine, a derivative of diphenylamine, was a much more effective
stabilizer. Despite the importance of this discovery, Pauling had little time to
publicize his discovery. Instead he produced a single, mandatory report on the findings
before moving on to other projects. Indeed, it wasn't until 1983, in a conversation
with a fellow researcher, that Pauling learned that his discovery had led to a universal
changeover from diphenylamine to dinitrodiphenylamine as a major safety precaution
in the explosives manufacturing industry.