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Arts & Culture

Oregon Experience: Linus Pauling

OPB | May 20, 2011 3:20 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:15 a.m.

Linus Pauling is considered one of the greatest scientists and humanitarians of the 20th century and is the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes: for chemistry in 1954 and Peace in 1962. The next episode in Oregon Public Broadcasting’s OREGON EXPERIECE series on Monday, May 30 at 9pm explores the life of this remarkable man and how growing up in Oregon helped shape him and his career.

Born in Portland in 1901, Linus spent his early childhood in the eastern Oregon town of Condon where his father worked as a self-taught pharmacist. Linus would often watch him as he mixed and measured chemical remedies in his Condon drug store.

When Linus was 9, the family moved back to Portland. His father, whom Linus adored, died shortly afterwards, and to make ends meet, his mother opened a boarding house in the southeast area of the city.

Young Linus found himself dramatically drawn to chemistry when a friend showed him some chemical experiments in his bedroom home laboratory. Linus built his own ‘lab’ in the basement of the boarding house where he sequestered himself doing his own experiments.

He was determined to attend college, and when he was 16, he set out for Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in Corvallis where he earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. It was also at OAC that he met his future wife and life partner, Ava Helen Miller, who would impact and influence his life greatly.

Pauling went on to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology where, for the next 40 years, he had a brilliant career, making revolutionary discoveries in chemistry, physics, molecular biology and medicine.

World War II and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan had a profound effect on the Paulings. During the height of the Cold War, they challenged the world to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and end the immorality of war. With Ava Helen at his side, Pauling became one of the most visible scientists and peace activists of the 1950s and ‘60s. For his efforts he was labeled a communist, had his name dragged through the mud, and endured more than 20 years of FBI investigation.

In the mid-1960s Pauling became interested in how mega doses of vitamins and micronutrients could be used to improve health. In 1970 he wrote the controversial best seller, “Vitamin C and the Common Cold.” His book was strongly criticized by the FDA and the medical establishment. Many called Pauling a quack and a kook – a label that would follow him the rest of his life.

Pauling died in 1994, bequeathing all of his personal and professional papers — his scientific notebooks, correspondence, photographs, medals and memorabilia – more than 500,000 items spanning almost an entire century — to his alma mater, Oregon State University. Today The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers is one of the largest and most significant collections in the world.

Watch OREGON EXPERIENCE: LINUS PAULING online anytime after the broadcast at watch.opb.org.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE

OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

About OPB

OPB is the largest cultural and education institution in the region, delivering excellence in public broadcasting to 1.5 million people each week through television, radio and the Internet. Widely recognized as a national leader in the public broadcasting arena, OPB is a major contributor to the program schedule that serves the entire country. OPB is one of the most-used and most-supported public broadcasting services in the country and is generously supported by 120,000 contributors.

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