Although he died in 1994, Linus Pauling still has an office at Oregon State University.
The room on the fifth floor of the Valley Library includes Pauling’s chalkboard (complete with a flurry of White scribbles), his Hewlett-Packard calculator, his two solid-gold Nobel Prizes and an original manuscript of “The Nature of the Chemical Bond,” a research paper appraised at more than $1 million.
The items exemplify a small portion of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, which are the cornerstone of the university’s archives, known as Special Collections.
While the showcase office sits just off the Special Collections lobby, more than 500,000 items are stored in a climate-controlled area nearby.
Pauling graduated from Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis and went on to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his era. He won the Nobel prize in chemistry for his work on the nature of chemical bonds among atoms and molecules in 1954 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.
Pauling also pioneered the field of orthomolecular medicine, using vitamins and minerals to promote health and prevent disease. He was the first researcher to promote taking vitamin C to prevent the common cold, an idea that remains controversial.
Pauling was prolific, and he also was something of a pack rat, so his collection includes 7,500 pages of work journals, models of molecules, love letters he wrote to his wife, old science-fiction magazines and even clippings from his beard.
“This is probably one of the favorite areas for researchers to come and use,” said Cliff Mead, the head of Special Collections, as he paused in a row with shelves of thick folders labeled “correspondence.”
Sinatra, Gandhi and Einstein wrote to Pauling.
“This is a microcosm of the social, political and scientific history of the 20th century,” Mead said.
Mead took a file for the letter K and flipped through it, listing various members of the Kennedy family, Martin Luther King Jr., Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and others.
The collection, he said, is the largest collection associated with an individual scientist anywhere in the world. Securing the Pauling Papers in 1986 was the result of 20 years of work by four different OSU presidents, competing for the property with other institutions.
Pauling hadn’t been a year-round presence in Corvallis since he graduated in 1922, but his reasons for choosing OSU for his collection included sentiment; he met his wife there.
Only OSU sought the papers of Ava Helen Pauling, a peace activist who influenced her husband to devote himself to the her cause in 1957.
Pauling worked for the California Institute of Technology for 42 years, but that relationship soured when Cal Tech asked him to step down as chairman of the chemistry department after he won his Nobel Peace Prize. It was during the height of the Cold War, and some of his critics labeled him a communist sympathizer, a criticism that still haunts his name.
“The FBI investigated him. He had a lot of trouble,” said Mary Jo Nye, Horning professor of humanities and professor of history at Oregon State University.
Special Collections includes 15 other collections, including archives of Bernard Malamud, whose books include “The Natural,” and historian William Appleman Williams.
Mead said work continues to acquire other collections of other OSU-connected luminaries. “They need to have a renown that is significant. It can’t be local or regional,” he said.
Competition for such artifacts, including from private collectors, has increased greatly in the last 20 years.
“It’s a big business, and people have figured out they can sell these things for large amounts of money,” Mead said.
Pauling’s legacy also has an impact on campus with the Linus Pauling Institute, which studies orthomolecular medicine. The institute and university chemists will be housed in a new $62.5 million Linus Pauling Science Center, which the university plans just west of Nash Hall by 2010.
On the Net:
The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers: http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/specialcollections/coll/pauling/catalogue/
The Associated Press
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