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Letter from D. P. Riley to Linus Pauling. May 2, 1953.
Riley writes that, due to budget restraints, he is being compelled to apply for a position at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. As such, Riley asks that Pauling please provide an informal letter of recommendation. He also discusses the details of his current research on the structure of proteins as well as the on-going debate over the correct structure of DNA. Riley surmises that "of the two [DNA structures], I must say that I prefer [Watson and Crick's] as it is more flexible and labile [than the Pauling-Corey model]; also the phosphate groups are on the outside and there seems to be good chemical evidence for this." Riley does, however, note that the Pauling-Corey model is "most convincing from the packing point-of-view" and concludes that both structures might possibly exist in differing circumstances.


2 May 1953

Professor Linus Pauling,

California Institute of Technology.


Dear Pauling,

I have just heard finally from Vold to the effect that

"....Budget hearings for determination of next year's program have just been completed and, although we are indeed authorized to appoint one new faculty member, it is at too junior a level for a man of your standing and previous experience. Please accept my apologies...."

In short, just as you said, and I had been forewarned by our conversation. I would prefer it this way to a barely adequate offer which I might have been tempted to accept with subsequent disillusionment.

I have been advised to put in an application for the vacant Chown Research Professorship of Chemistry at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and have done so. The research programme I have given is similar to the one you have already except that I have enlarged it to include work on non-biological macromolecules and colloidal systems, and to embrace a varied lot of applications of X-ray methods in the field of physical chemistry generally.

In this application, I have not presumed to give your name as a referee but I should, nevertheless, be extremely grateful if you would write a short letter to the Principal of Queen's University saying that you understand that I am a candidate and then adding any brief remarks about my recent work, with which you are acquainted, that you may care to make. Such a letter, although of a much less formal nature than a proper reference, would certainly help me greatly. As I applied rather late, I should be grateful if you would write straight away, if you feel inclined to do so at all. I do hope you will.

As you will probably have gathered, I am at rather an awkward stage of my career, and your kindness to me personally coupled with your interest in my work, has greatly heartened me. Believe me, I am very grateful.

I regret that we did not have more time to discuss technical matters when you passed through London.

We are nearing the final stage of writing up the protein work and I believe I mentioned to you that we are in no doubt that we can distinguish α 1 from α2 , experimentally and theoretically. Cytochrome-c is α2, so, apparently, is myoglobin. If true, this is a most interesting result because, as haemoglobin is α 1, myoglobin cannot be a simple fraction of haemoglobin, as has been suggested. We have also shown that, in calf thymus nucleoprotein, the histone is present in normal form. In other words, we are dealing with a simple addition complex (this is not re-constituted material) and the idea that the polypeptide chains are wrapped around the nucleic acid is at variance with our results on this substance. By the way, we have some good data on nucleic acids of various sorts. We first worked on them a long time ago but shelved the investigation. It should be possible to decide between your 3-helix structure and the less precisely defined 2-helix structure of the various English people. Of the two, I must say that I prefer theirs as it is more flexible and labile; also the phosphate groups are on the outside and there seems to be good chemical evidence for this. Nevertheless, your structure is most convincing from the packing point-of-view and it would not surprise me if both types of structure exist under different conditions. The essential feature in this molecule, to my mind, is that is does not have a singular structure but changes with environmental conditions - hence, life.

Well, it has been good to write of these things as well as of my career problems. I am looking forward enormously to seeing you again. I shall be at Stockholm so that we may have an opportunity there.

[handwritten] With sincere good wishes,

Yours truly[?],

Dennis Riley

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