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Research Newsletter-Spring/Summer 2008


On March 6th, the United Sates Postal Service (USPS) issued a set of four stamps, each commemorating an American scientist. The set features theoretical physicist John Bardeen, biochemist Gerty Cori, astronomer Edwin Hubble, and Linus Pauling. The USPS press release stated, "Structural chemist Linus Pauling (1901-1994) determined the nature of the chemical bond linking atoms into molecules. He routinely crossed disciplinary boundaries throughout his career and made significant contributions in several diverse fields. His pioneering work on protein structure was critical in establishing the field of molecular biology and his studies of hemoglobin led to many findings, including the classification of sickle cell anemia as a molecular disease." The stamp honoring Pauling features an illustration of abnormal red blood cells from patients with sickle-cell anemia. In 1949 Pauling discovered that the red blood cells from such patients become sickled when their hemoglobin molecules combine with themselves in de-oxygenated blood, forming long rods that twist the cells into the characteristic shape observed in the disease. Sickle-cell anemia was the first disease to be characterized as a molecular disease.

Linus Pauling stamp

Pauling's daughter, Linda Pauling Kamb, was present at a ceremony convened by the USPS at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 6, the first day of issue. On the same day in Corvallis, Oregon, Pauling's son Linus Pauling Jr., his biographer Tom Hager, and Stephen Lawson of LPI spoke at a special ceremony at Oregon State University held in conjunction with the USPS. Dr. Pauling Jr. noted several experiences that his father had at Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) that helped him be so successful. Linus Pauling Jr. also thanked OSU for honoring his father's legacies. Both Linus Pauling Jr. and Tom Hager mentioned the government's political persecution of Pauling in the 1950s that severely hindered his scientific work and ability to win federal grant support. The denial of a passport renewal by the State Department in 1952 during the McCarthy era compromised Pauling's work on the structure of DNA, resulting in his failure to see Rosalind Franklin's X-ray crystallographic pictures of pure DNA in England. Watson and Crick, of course, had access to that critical data and discovered the double helix.

Pauling was largely vindicated by the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1975 for "the extraordinary scope and power of his imagination, which has led to basic contributions in such diverse fields as structural chemistry and the nature of chemical bonding, molecular biology, immunology, and the nature of genetic diseases," and the new stamp is further recognition by the government of his monumental achievements. Stephen Lawson recalled Pauling as charismatic and courageous and said the 2000 "Millennium Essay" in the respected scientific journal Nature called Pauling one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the millennium, ranking alongside Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, and Einstein. In a video clip, U.S. Representative Darlene Hooley of Oregon saluted Pauling. LPI Director Balz Frei and Cliff Mead, Head of Special Collections, which archives the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, were also acknowledged at the ceremony. Corvallis Postmaster John Herrington and postal employees were present to hand stamp souvenir first-day-of-issue envelopes that featured a unique postal cancellation in the shape of a molecular model.

Last updated June 2008