Here’s Why Linus Pauling is Among Our Greatest Scientists

A lot that included Linus Pauling’s signature was offered in January 2017.

By Jim O’Neal

Serious writers about Albert Einstein almost invariably include two episodes in his life. The first is the year 1905, when he published four stunning scientific papers. The first explained how to measure molecules in a liquid; the second explained how to determine their movement. The third was a revolutionary concept that described how light rays come in packets called photons. The fourth merely changed the world!

A second highlight deals with a “fudge factor” Einstein (1879-1955) called a “cosmological constant,” whose only purpose was to cancel out the troublesome cumulative effects of gravity on his masterful general theory of relativity. He would later call it “the biggest blunder of my life.” Personally, I prefer a much more simplistic observation that perfectly captures his nonchalance. The poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945) once asked him if he had a notebook to keep track of all his ideas. A rather amused Einstein quickly replied, “Oh, no. That’s not necessary. It is very seldom I have one.”

History is replete with examples of people who had a good year. It was 1941 for Yankees great Joe DiMaggio when he hit in 56 consecutive games, and Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in 1927. For Bobby Jones, it was 1930, when he won all four of golf’s major championships. Some people have good days, like Isaac Newton when he observed an apple falling from a tree and instantly conceptualized his theory of gravity.

Linus Pauling was different. His entire life was filled with curiosity, followed by extensive scientific research to understand the factors that had provoked him to wonder why. Pauling was born in 1901. His father died in 1910, leaving his mother to figure out how to support three children. Fortunately, a young school friend got an inexpensive chemistry set as a gift and that was enough to spark Pauling’s passion for research. He was barley 13, but the next 80 years were spent delving into the world of the unknown and finding important answers to civilization’s most complex issues.

He left high school without a diploma (two credits short that a teacher wouldn’t let him make up), but then heard about quantum mechanics and in 1926 won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the subject under top physicists in Europe. (He was eventually given an honorary high school diploma … after he won his first Nobel Prize.) By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Pauling was busy cranking out a series of landmark scientific papers explaining the quantum-mechanical nature of chemical bonds that dazzled the scientific community.

Eventually, he returned to the California Institute of Technology (with his honorary high school diploma) to teach the best and brightest of that era. Robert Oppenheimer (of the Manhattan Project) unsuccessfully tried to recruit him to build the atomic bomb, but failed (presumably because he also tried to seduce Pauling’s wife). However, Pauling did work on numerous wartime military projects … explosives, rocket propellants and an armor-piercing shell. It’s a small example of how versatile he was. In 1948, President Truman awarded him a Presidential Medal for Merit.

In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances … which I shall not try to explain. And along the way, he became a passionate pacifist, joining the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, chaired by Einstein, in an effort “to warn the people of the pending dangers of nuclear weapons.” His reward was to be called a communist; he had his passport revoked and his patriotism challenged, along with many others, in the dark days of McCarthyism.

In 1958, he petitioned the United Nations, calling for the cessation of nuclear weapons. In addition to his wife, it was signed by over 11,000 scientists from 50 countries. First ban the bomb, then ban nuclear testing, followed by a global treaty to end war, per se. He received a second Nobel Prize for Peace in 1963, but that was for trying to broker an early peace with Vietnam, making him one of only four people to win more than one prize, including Marie Curie in 1903 (physics) and 1911 (chemistry). His other awards are far too numerous to mention. As an aside, he died in one of my favorite places: Big Sur, Calif., at age 93.

Sadly, in later life, his reputation was damaged by his enthusiasm for alternative medicine. He championed the use of high-dose vitamin C as a defense against the common cold, a treatment that was subsequently shown to be ineffective (though there’s some evidence it may shorten the length of colds). I still take it and see scientific articles more frequently about the benefit of infused vitamin C being tested in several cancer trials.

If he were still working on it, let’s say the smart money would be on Pauling.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The Great Bobby Jones Achieved a Sports Record that Will Never Be Broken

Bobby Jones’ 1937 personal Augusta Green Jacket sold for $310,700 at an August 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Only two Americans have been made an Honorary Burgess of the Borough by the people of St. Andrews. One was Ben Franklin and the other was amateur golfer Bobby Jones. When golfers evaluate each other, it is not about their swing, iron play or prize money. The question is: “How many Majors have they won?” The modern-day Majors comprise four tournaments: the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, the Open Championship (British), and the Masters Golf Tournament.

This unique criterion is the yardstick to measure greatness and the current all-time leader is Jack Nicklaus, with a career total of 18 wins. Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is No. 2 with 14, and there is growing skepticism about his chances to tie or surpass Nicklaus (my bet is no).

Usually ranked No. 3 on the all-time greatest list (which typically includes Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead) is a remarkable man by the name of Robert Tyre Jones Jr. (aka Bobby Jones). With childhood health issues, Jones wasn’t expected to live past his fifth birthday, but he became the greatest sports legend of the first half of the 20th century. He is golf’s consummate icon, the measuring stick against which all aspiring champions will be measured. In a sport where so many compete so regularly, no player has ever dominated the way Jones did between 1920 and 1930.

During that 10-year stretch, Jones competed in 45 events, winning 21 and finishing in second place seven times. From the tender age of 19 until he was 28, he won 13 Major Championships and set records that lasted for more than 60 years. He is also the only man to win all four of his era’s Majors in one year: the British Open, British Amateur, the U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur. Since no other amateur has won the U.S. Open since the 1930s, this is a cinch to be the only sports record that will never be broken or tied … as long as the game of golf is played.

Jones also was the embodiment of sportsmanship. At one point during the 1925 U.S. Open, he penalized himself a stroke for a slight ball movement that no one noticed. Everyone congratulated him profusely on his honesty, but he simply replied, “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Bobby Jones, circa 1930

After Jones set this precedent for self-policing, golfers are still trying to match his uncompromising integrity. Golf is the only professional sport that really doesn’t need referees or umpires, since players usually call all the penalties. It’s an astonishing situation when compared to cycling, gymnasts or track stars (doping), or professional soccer, where players conspire to fix games. Or baseball, basketball or football, where players and coaches are routinely ejected for complaining about adverse rulings.

However, a truly remarkable thing happened in 1930 when Bobby Jones won golf’s Grand Slam at age 28 … he retired from competitive golf to focus on his law career. This is analogous to Joe DiMaggio retiring in 1941 after hitting in 56 straight games, Babe Ruth in 1927 after his 60 home runs, or Roger Bannister hanging up his running shoes on May 6, 1954, after becoming the first man in history to run the mile in under 4 minutes.

The next phase of Jones’ life included transforming 365 acres of land in Augusta, Ga., into a golf course that is revered by golfers worldwide: the Augusta National Golf Club. This is arguably the planet’s No. 1 golf course and venerable site of the greatest tournament in the history of the game: the Masters. The just-completed 2017 Masters was the 81st time the world’s best golfers played for the coveted Green Jacket.

Play is strictly by invitation-only, as is membership in Augusta National. Condoleezza Rice was one of the first two women invited to join (2012). I have been patiently waiting a long time and only recently adopted Groucho Marx’s philosophy: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member!”

P.S. To whoever decides on members …. just kidding.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].