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Linus got interested in the chemistry of living things. He and a colleague, Robert Corey, showed how amino acids were constructed, and how coiling of proteins occurred because of hydrogen bonds within the coils. Later, he and his competitors joined in the race to understand the structure of DNA. Linus took on the challenge from a British team consisting of James Watson and Francis Crick. All of them used the ideas of coiling induced by hydrogen bonding and the approach of x-ray diffraction to decode the structure of DNA.

Pauling made one wrong assumption about DNA, which Watson and Crick realized. This led Watson and Crick to draw the correct conclusion about the DNA structure. In the famous book The Double Helix by Watson and Crick, they describe the race to be the first to understand DNA. They freely admit that the race was with Linus, and they used his explanation of the structure as the basis for their own thinking. Linus came very close to winning a second Nobel Prize in chemistry. One of the students that Linus trained, William Lipscomb, also won a Nobel Prize.

Linus became very concerned with the effects of science, which are not always good. For example, in the 1950s as the U.S. and Russia proliferated atomic weapons, he mobilized scientists from all over the world to pressure the U.S., Britain, and Russia, to stop atomic weapons testing and to halt the arms race. For this, he was awarded another Nobel Prize, the Peace Prize, making him the only scientist ever to receive the Peace Prize. Linus' anti-war activities led him to be accused of being a Communist, which he vigorously denied. For several years the State Department refused to issue him a passport to attend scientific meetings in Europe. At these meetings, he desperately wanted to defend his ideas about protein coiling, which were not widely accepted at that time in Europe.

Vitamin Bottle ImageDoes your mother make you take vitamin C? That widespread practice comes from the worldwide campaign by Linus to convince people that large doses of vitamin C will help people ward off disease. Most scientists accept Linus' position that vitamin C is important, but not nearly as important as Linus believed.

One reason for Linus Pauling's lifetime of success is explained by an exchange he had with a high school student: "How do you get so many great ideas?" the student asked. Linus replied, "To get good ideas, the important thing is to have lots of ideas."

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Serafini, A. 1991. Linus Pauling. A Man and His Science. Paragon House, New York, N.Y.
Pauling, Linus Carl. 1982. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Chemistry. Vol. 9, pp. 370-372.