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by Linda Baxter
Linus Pauling was the only person who has ever won two (unshared) Nobel Prizes: for Chemistry in 1954, and a Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. He is also known as "the vitamin C man".
Who was Linus Pauling and what did he do?
Linus Pauling was the only person who has ever won two (unshared) Nobel Prizes. If you are interested in science, you may know that he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954. Then again, you might recognise his name because of his involvement with anti-nuclear movements in the 1950s and 1960s - and his Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 for his campaign to stop open air nuclear testing. And a lot of people who are interested in health and alternative medicine know him as "the vitamin C man" because he shocked the world of science in the 1970s by suggesting that enormous amounts of vitamin C can keep us healthy.
After finishing his university course in chemical engineering, Pauling worked in physical chemistry in the 1920s and 1930s. He was interested in the way that molecules are connected in crystals, and used physical techniques, such as X-rays, to study them. He also applied the ideas of quantum physics (a radical new science at the time) to the study of chemistry. He used these new theories to solve problems that had never been explained before. His work at that time led to a lot of the drugs, plastics and synthetic fibres that we know today.
Because of his interest in the way that molecules behave, Pauling slowly became more involved in biological chemistry, rather than physical chemistry. Through the 1930s and 1940s he began to work with organic substances, especially proteins. He made discoveries about the structure of proteins which were very important for medicine. For example, they were able to develop an artificial substitute for blood plasma. They also made important discoveries about some types of genetic disease, such as sickle cell anaemia. Many people believe that he was near to discovering the structure of DNA at that time.
The Campaigner for Peace
Pauling worked with the US government during World War 2 and helped to develop conventional weapons and explosives. But in 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, everything changed for him. He began to study the effects of radiation on the human body - the structure of the molecules and the way that they could be passed from generation to generation. He became convinced that nuclear explosions had a terrible effect on living molecules and that using nuclear weapons, or even open air nuclear tests, would do terrible things to people and the environment for years and years to come. Pauling believed that the US government was hiding the truth from the people, and that it was his moral duty to tell people about what he had discovered. He began to speak publicly in favour of peace, disarmament and the end of nuclear testing.
This was not popular in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s. He was accused of being anti-American and a communist and he lost friends, support and his job as a university professor. The US State Department took away his passport. They only gave it back in 1954 when he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and had to travel to Sweden to receive the prize. But Pauling continued his campaign against the nuclear bomb. In 1957 he organised a petition calling for an end to open air nuclear testing. Over 11,000 scientists signed it. As a result of this, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. A year later, in 1963, the first ever Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed.
'The Vitamin C Man'
Pauling continued to speak against war but also became interested in using vitamins and minerals to fight disease. In 1970 he published a book called Vitamin C and the Common Cold, saying that Vitamin C can fight colds. He shocked everyone in the world of medicine and science by recommending enormous amounts of the vitamin - over 10 grams a day. (Pauling himself took 18 grams of Vitamin C every day - that is 300 times the recommended amount!). Many people today take vitamins and mineral pills but, at that time, his ideas were shocking.
Even today scientists do not agree about the benefits of Vitamin C, especially the 'mega' amounts that Pauling recommended. The scientific community didn't want to know him anymore. He was called 'an embarrassment' and 'a madman'. The situation became even worse when he began to speak about the importance of Vitamin C in fighting cancer. But Pauling said that his experiences as a peace campaigner had taught him how to fight, and he continued to talk about his ideas until his death in 1994 at the age of 93. He founded the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, which carries on his work today.