Photo of Linus Carl Pauling

Linus Carl Pauling

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

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.

Great discoveries stem from great competition. In the race to explain DNA – the building blocks for all life – biochemist Linus Pauling pushed colleagues to uncover unprecedented breakthroughs.

Though he erred in his own hypothesis of a triple-helix structure of DNA, Pauling’s failure paved the way for James Watson and Francis Crick to confirm the double-helix, the accepted structure for all genetic material.

“If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas,” Pauling said. “Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away.”

Some of Pauling’s best ideas focus on atoms and how they bond to form molecules. In 1932, he introduced “electronegativity,” an atom’s tendency to attract a bonding pair of electrons.

For this, he won a Nobel Prize in 1954. Later, he became the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes following his 1962 Peace Prize for opposing nuclear weapons.