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December 2004 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Linus Pauling's (1901-1994) receipt of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, awarded for his work on the nature of the chemical bond. In commemoration of this milestone, the Oregon State University Librarieshome to the mammoth Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papershave launched a digital library, Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History, which is devoted to Pauling's epic achievement.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Pauling's research on the nature of the chemical bond. As students in the mid-1920s, Pauling and his colleagues worked under the prevailing theory that atoms formed molecules through rudimentary "hook and eye" bonds conceptually similar to the types of devices used these days by recreational fishermen to connect their boats to the back of towing vehicles. Pauling shattered these now-archaic assumptions by applying the new quantum physics to the science world's understanding of molecular architecture.
Introducing concepts such as valency and the hybrid orbital, Pauling posited a revolutionary set of theories in which chemical bonds were created through the exchange of energy between atoms. Almost instantly the hook and eye approach was cast into oblivionPauling had drafted the new blueprint for modern structural chemistry. Indeed, Pauling's 1939 book The Nature of the Chemical Bond remains the most-frequently cited book in the scientific literature of the twentieth century. Tellingly, his 1954 Nobel chemistry prize was the first ever awarded for a body of work, rather than a single grand idea.
The OSU Libraries website details Pauling's achievement using three distinct but inter-related approaches. The foremost is an illustrated forty-six page narrative outlining the science and personalities behind Pauling's monumental achievements. This narrative is supported by an "All Documents and Media" feature which provides a more scholarly vantage point on the over-800 letters, manuscripts, photographs and audio-visual grafs that form the intellectual foundation of the site. Finally, a "Linus Pauling Day-by-Day" calendar offers the user a glimpse into Pauling's daily activities throughout the 1930s, as well as his first Nobel year of 1954.
Linus Pauling remains the only recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizesthe 1954 chemistry prize and the 1962 Nobel Peace prize awarded for his activism against nuclear weapons testing. In 1986 Pauling donated all of his and his wife's personal and scientific papers to the Oregon State University Libraries, a collection of over 500,000 items. Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond is the fifth digital library created from this collection.
All of the OSU Libraries' digital Pauling projects are available at http://osulibrary.orst.edu/specialcollections/.
(On January 18, 2005, at the author's request, the text was corrected to read "...'The Nature of the Chemical Bond' remains the most-frequently cited book in the scientific literature of the twentieth century" (rather than most-frequently cited publication...).)
Copyright© 2005 Chris Petersen