The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling Narrative  
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Big Science
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For nearly five years politicians and lobbyists battled over the details of this so-called "National Research Foundation." Funding, focus, and structure were all hot topics that kept the organization from taking shape. To further complicate matters, while Bush's proposal was stymied by politicians, other national science organizations were taking shape. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) became effective January 1, 1947 through the Atomic Energy Act signed by Truman. The AEC was, in essence, a post-war answer to the OSRD. It was a civilian organization charged with the development of atomic energy research and policy. The AEC, however, was funded by the U.S. government and, for the sake of security, partnered with the U.S. military. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a conglomeration of health research institutes established in 1930, grew in size and scope following the war, further reducing potential NRF jurisdiction.

After years of debate a consensus was finally reached and on May 10, 1950 Harry S. Truman signed the National Science Foundation Act. This legislation created the National Science Foundation (NSF) which was directed by a 25-person National Science Board that included 24 part-time members and an executive officer as appointed by the president. For the first several years of its existence under the direction of Alan T. Waterman, the NSF was virtually destitute thanks to the cost of the Korean War. Nevertheless, the organization persevered and by the mid-1950s was equipped with a $100 million budget with which to build a national science program rivaling that of the Soviet Union. Another major war was in the works and, once again, scientists were going to do their part.

Bush, Pauling, and the thousands of politicians, scientists, and administrators that had thrown themselves into war-time science had ushered in a new era for the United States. The U.S. was suddenly a superpower - the only launch-ready nuclear nation on the planet. While Europe and Asia lay in shambles, U.S. manufacturing was stronger than ever. Even the Great Depression, which had plagued the U.S. before the war, was forgotten and replaced by a level of prosperity virtually unknown in American history. The face of science was equally changed. The small-scale research of the early 20th century was outdated. The NDRC and OSRD had introduced the world to "big science," a term that quickly became synonymous with large budgets, huge staffs, and truly ambitious goals.

Pauling, despite remaining relatively small-scale with his research in the post-World War II era, benefited from this new concept of science. While big science was best represented by large, multi-million dollar projects, post-war government groups sometimes took a shotgun approach to research funding. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s government-funded organizations doled out millions of dollars to small groups with the hope that these researchers would add to the scientific body of knowledge in a big way. Much of Pauling's work during this time received support as a result of this approach. His work with DNA, sickle cell anemia and nutrition were all funded, at least in part, by federal agencies. Government agencies were not the only organizations to offer large grants in support of the sciences, however. The concept of big science was taken up by private institutions in the post-war era, leading to millions of dollars in grants from non-government groups. Though Pauling traditionally adhered to the small science approach, during the late 1940s he and his colleague George Beadle received hundreds of thousands of dollars from various private and government organizations to study the structure of organic proteins. Compared to most of his research programs, this was a massive project, spanning half a decade and including work from dozens of scientists, lab technicians, and graduate students.

For the country's top researchers, big science was the beginning of a new era. The landscape of scientific research was changing and the way scientists operated was changing along with it. Even Pauling, a traditionally introspective and self-reliant researcher, found himself being drawn into the expensive, large-scale world of big science.

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Audio Clip  Audio: The Post-War Funding Boom. February 22 - 23, 1991. (2:50) Transcript and More Information

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Audio Clip  Audio: Shifts in the Funding Paradigm. October 16, 1992. (1:38) Transcript and More Information

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See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to Alan T. Waterman. April 7, 1954. 

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Members of the Caltech Chemistry faculty. 1950.


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Letter from Linus Pauling to Harlow Shapley. July 3, 1946.

"[In] America postwar scientists were showered with money and acclaim. They were the national heroes who had invented the rockets and radar and bombs that had helped the Allies win, and they were lionized during the euphoria that followed."

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