Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“The Life and Work of Linus Pauling (1901-1994): A Discourse on the Art of Biography.”

February 28 - March 2, 1995

Video: Session Introduction: “The Personal View of Linus Pauling and His Work.” Crellin Pauling

11:10 - Abstract | Biography | More Videos from Session 3: The Personal View of Linus Pauling and His Work

Related Names: Linus Pauling


Crellin Pauling: Welcome to the session, "The Personal View of Linus Pauling and His Work." I'm Crellin Pauling, I'm the youngest child of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling, and I was asked to moderate this session of this interesting symposium.

I'd like to open by making a few comments of personal reflections of my own. I was born in 1937. I was born right at the time that my dad was made the Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech and that the department occupied the Crellin Laboratory of Chemistry. And I think most of you can figure out why my mother named me what she named me.

I was in high school in Pasadena in the early Fifties. I finished high school in 1954, which given the talk that you all heard last night, tells you the era that I grew up. Fortunately in some ways, unfortunately in some ways, of course I was an adolescent kid and was interested in girls and sports cars and other such things probably more than I should have been. Interested in DNA a little bit less than I should have been at that age. Luckily, my interest in DNA grew quite a lot. But I was home during the DNA era in my dad's life and I have very clear memories, mostly of his conversations with my mom, talking about the things that he was working on. And I used to, when I was in the eleventh grade, I wasn't sixteen yet and so I would walk from PCC, where in those days in Pasadena the high school and the junior college were together. I would walk from PCC down to Caltech and then get a ride home with my dad. And I remember one day we were walking out to the car to drive home and he was carrying this model, there were models all over the place, and I think it was Ed Bookman we ran into in the hall. And so he held out this model to show off his structure of DNA. And my memory of it was not this fibrous long slender thing like the alpha-helix models we had at home at all. My memory of it was a sort of globular thing and for the life of me I can't figure out what it looked like.

Yesterday I was going through my reprints, my LP reprints, hoping I could find that paper. I don't have one, so I couldn't find it. I did find some other interesting reprints. Then I remembered, you know I heard this morning that I imagine my father had some passport problems, but I remember his going off to England and coming home and he was talking to my mom and I was just sort of there. I remember her asking about DNA and he just said, very matter of factly, well, the English have it right. Some words to that effect. And it was very matter of fact. The English had it right and he knew they had it right. And in the clarity of hindsight it's very clear why they had it right, and it's very clear why he could see that they had it right. But, well, you win a few, you lose a few, you move on. But I see that there's some young people here in the audience. You all know that there's two hydrogen bonds between adenine and thymine, and there are three hydrogen bonds between guanine and cytosine. Everybody learns that. So do you know who figured out that there are three hydrogen bonds between guanine and cytosine? Do you know? LP. I mention that because my wife is a Ph.D. cell biologist and we were talking in the car the other day about what kinds of stories I might weave today and she didn't know that. Her education had never picked that up. So there's a bit of trivia for you.

When I was looking through my reprint collection yesterday I found an interesting paper. A paper that he published in 1954 titled, "The Molecular Basis of Heredity," and it was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. And I think this juxtaposition illustrates the diversity of interests that he had and his remarkable ability to take insights in one area and apply them to the other area. And in this paper, "The Molecular Basis of Heredity," he starts out by addressing the issue of a molecular explanation of mental disease and he ends with a very nice tribute to Watson and Crick for their elegant model. Pointing out, of course, that Pauling and Delbrück several years earlier had postulated the complementarity, which is inherent in the structure of DNA.

Well, why didn't he figure it out? It's too bad Francis isn't still here because I'd like Francis to hear this story. I'll tell you a little story that I do not believe has been published. Why didn't Daddy figure out the structure of DNA? And it's so obvious. A equals D, G equals C. Elementary school kids can figure it out. So, I asked him maybe twenty five years ago if in the clarity of hindsight he had any insight into why he hadn't figured it out. And in particular, why he didn't figure out the import of Chargaff's numbers. Erwin Chargaff at the Rockefeller University is the scientist who made the measurements that determined that adenine equals thymine and guanine equals cytosine in every sample of DNA. Well, the answer that Daddy gave is a surprising one. It gives some insight into his character and into how science works, or at least how science worked for him.

In 1948 we spent the Spring in Oxford where my father was the Eastman Professor of Chemistry at Balliol College and we got to England on the Queen Mary. We sailed from New York the day after Christmas in 1947 the night after a 27 or 37, do you remember Linda, inch snowfall? Remember going in the taxi through the snow from The Biltmore to the ship? And we came home, we spent six months in England. And I was an English schoolboy with shorts, and socks, and a little hat, learning Latin. And Linda was an English schoolgirl. And then after we spent some time on the continent in the summer. We were in Holland for a week and then Switzerland. When we were in Switzerland my father was reading proof on General Chemistry. And then we came home on the Queen Mary. We were in Paris for a couple of weeks and we came home on the Queen Mary. Sailing from Sherborough. And on the ship with us, of course I didn't know it at the time, but this is what my father told me. On the ship with us was none other but Erwin Chargaff and they found each other because they had some interests in common. And my father learned about Chargaff's measurements of the purine, pyramidine ratios in DNA straight from the horse's mouth. Directly from Chargaff in person. Well, I'm sure many of you know that Chargaff had a reputation as a, well how do you put it politely, as a difficult personality. And what Daddy said to me was that he found Chargaff so unpleasant to be trapped on the Queen Mary with that he dismissed his work. And what he told me twenty-five years ago was that it may well be that if he had just read the papers, instead of having been trapped on the Queen Mary for five days with this guy, he would have thought more about what these numbers meant. It may well be. And to put this in the proper context he has published that he didn't know anything about proteins in 1948 when the alpha-helix dawned on him, that he knew in 1937. So the genesis of the idea took eleven years. And it may well be that if he'd read Chargaff's papers in 1948 instead of crossing on the Queen Mary -- if we'd crossed on the Queen Elizabeth -- the story might have been different. I like that story.

Well, this is really a lot of fun for me to have the privilege to moderate this session and to introduce five old friends. And friends of ours as we were growing up. What we're going to do is we'll have the three speakers, each will speak approximately thirty minutes. After the second, Dr. Hedberg, we'll take a brief break, so a potty break. And then following the three speakers we'll have comments of roughly ten minutes each from Dr. Shoemaker and Dr. Catchpool.

So, first I'd like to introduce Matt Meselson. Now talking about history, I went to college in the Fifties. I went to a little-known liberal arts college that some of you may have heard of, it's called Reed College. In my undergraduate biology curriculum, DNA was something that stained with feulgen. Any of you young people know what feulgen is? Feulgen is a stain that histologists use to stain nuclei, and in fact it does stain the nuclei, the DNA, the chromosomes. Well, since I lived in Pasadena I went home to Pasadena for the summers and our tradition in our family was my dad helped us get jobs and I got a job working with Dan Campbell, immunologist. I learned how to do kjeldahl determinations of nitrogen and antigen-antibody complexes and so on. But my sister knew Matt Meselson and told Matt that I was a biology student and Matt told her to be sure to get me to come and talk to him. So, I wandered around one day and had the great privilege of hearing about the Meselson-Stahl experiment directly from Matt. And I have to tell you Matt, it's one of my favorite things to teach is the Meselson-Stahl experiment.


Watch Other Videos

Session 1: Linus C. Pauling Day Lecture

Session 2: The Biographer's Picture of Linus Pauling

Session 3: The Personal View of Linus Pauling and His Work

Session 4: Historians and Contemporary Scientific Biography

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