Promoting science and peace
For the ultimate connection between science & society we need look no further than Linus Pauling. Not content with winning a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1954, he went on to win another eight years later – this time for peace.
A founding father of quantum chemistry and molecular biology, his contribution to science is difficult to summarise. His masterwork The Nature of the Chemical Bond became a standard science textbook; while his studies of hemoglobin led to the classification of sickle cell anemia as a molecular disease. We also have Pauling to thank for our understanding of everything from the make-up of atomic nuclei, to DNA structure, to the elements of complex proteins. He even designed an eponymous oxygen meter to nurture premature babies inside their incubators.
But this is only half the story for this American giant. In fact it could be argued that Pauling’s greatest contribution to humanity was as an anti-war demonstrator – able to support his passionate beliefs with serious scientific credibility.
Influenced heavily by his pacifist wife Ava, Pauling campaigned tirelessly during the Cold War, not just against nuclear weapons testing but against nuclear war itself – making plenty of enemies at home in a paranoid age characterized by the McCarthy trials, and earning a temporary refusal of his US passport.
Undeterred, it was Pauling’s influential role in the infamous ‘baby tooth survey’ - which revealed disturbing radiation levels in the teeth of infants living close to test sites - that eventually led to the banning of over-ground nuclear testing by the two superpowers. Appropriately, not only did it earn him a Nobel Prize, but also the International Lenin Peace Prize from the USSR - no doubt much to the chagrin of certain countrymen.
In fact, controversy was never far away from Pauling. His advocacy of optimum vitamin C consumption to combat cancer and other ailments fiercely split scientific opinion for some 60-plus years until his death at the ripe old age of 93 in 1994.
Nevertheless his place in history is assured, both in this world…and beyond. Deep in space, many millions of miles from home, the asteroid 4674 Pauling continues to bear his name to this very day.