The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling Narrative  
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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 NDRC needed. 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.

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Audio Clip  Audio: War Work Directed by Robert Corey. November 1, 1991. (1:32) Transcript and More Information

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Audio Clip  Audio: The Importance of Pauling's Powder Research. August 23, 1991. (2:32) Transcript and More Information

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Page 1
Conceptual sketch of a Wasserfall Missile. approx. 1945.


Page 1
Notes by Linus Pauling on a conversation with George Kistiakowsky. September 5, 1942.

"Dr. John Kincaid has told me today that one discovery that was made by our group in Pasadena during the Second World War has been pretty universally adopted.... We showed that dinitrodiphenylamine was less basic and for this reason was a more effective stabilizer than diphenylamine itself. He said that dinitrodiphenylamine is now universally used in powder."

Linus Pauling
April 22, 1983
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