Linus Pauling (1901-1994) was a brilliant chemist who received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and another for Peace in 1962 for his work against warfare resulted in the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned all the nuclear tests not underground. He also contributed to the medical discovery of his century, the determination of DNA’s structure, and it’s not so surprising that his formidable mind was captured, in the last years of his life, by the Cold Fusion.
I asked to Mr. Russ George, a 65 years old US consulting scientist for industry and government who knew Linus Pauling and started talking with him around 1990 (and continued until a year before his death, though much less as he neared the end) to answer some questions to remember the man, the scientist and this late passion:
Russ, how did you meet an already so famous person like Linus Pauling?
“I came to know Linus Pauling in Palo Alto, where I lived with my wife, working in the biotech industry. Linus had a large private institute and facility three blocks from my house. It was offices and labs where his substantial team studied many topics he loved, amongst them vitamin C. Pauling had long given up academia. Being so near, I walked into his office one day without any real hope of meeting him and to my surprise did. What a gentle man Linus was! Over the course of a few years while I worked on cold fusion in my Palo Alto garage lab – I was an autodidact in this field – I was lucky enough to be able to walk to his office many times to share my observations and chat with him. Brainstorming with Linus was science to the max, an extreme sport!”.
What Pauling, that at the time was in his nineties, has been for you, an eclectic and autodidact cold fusion researcher with no institutional overhead?
“He became a mentor beyond my wildest dreams not only willing but eager to encourage me, a Palo Alto garage experimentalist, to talk through my experimental observations and ideas. Linus was fascinated that I could produce in my Palo Alto cold fusion work results that confirmed that cold fusion is allowed in physics and encouraged me to forget about trying to satisfy the hordes of cynics and skeptics and just do the explorative experiments. He was a man of such brilliance that even as his body was so frail with age his still nimble mind was an incredible ecosystem of experience and wisdom. It was tough keeping up with him. It was also a privilege to be invited to do so. I remember that in one meeting he gave me some words of wisdom, reminding me that ‘in his experience frequently the most remarkable discoveries almost always came unexpectedly’”.
The gold medal of Nobel Prize for Chemistry, December 10, 1954, the first of two won by Pauling.
What was the attitude of Pauling towards cold fusion? This field flourished in 1989 was quickly abandoned by the mainstream scientific community…
“Linus had spoken favourably about cold fusion since its first announcement. He was a true judge of science and not afraid of controversy. He was on record proposing some ideas on how cold fusion was allowed in physics. Pauling tinkered around this topic with methods of prompting fusion with the idea to someday patenting them in the early nineties. His ideas lay fallow and a little over two years later, Linus passed away. He was 93. His notes, however, remain useful insofar as they contribute to the on-going conversation as to the possibility of cold fusion and of ways of facilitating hot fusion. Pauling’s thoughts on modern subjects such as nuclear fusion and cold fusion were also further evidence of an active and inquisitive mind even as he neared the end of his life”.
As suggested to me by Russ George, we can find some interesting notes and documents about Pauling’s thinking on cold fusion in the “Pauling Blog”:
“In 1989, after Fleischmann and Pons’ announcement, Pauling sent a letter to Nature magazine in which he suggested that the decomposition of small amounts of PdHx were responsible for thermal anomalies. During the following years, his interest on the topic of nuclear fusion, and particularly cold fusion, continued. In May 1992, while at home on his ranch in Big Sur, California, Pauling had a conversation with his grandson Barclay J. ‘Barky’ Kamb, during which he revealed his idea for a nuclear fusion invention. Pauling had taken note of the fact that many experiments reported a ‘liberation of neutrons or helions or other indication of nuclear reaction greater than the background count’, but that not all interested researchers had observed the phenomenon”.
The Pauling’s letter to “Nature”, April 24, 1989 (from the Pauling Blog, click image to enlarge).
In the same blog, we find also some a little more technical information on his ideas about cold fusion that I resume here for their historical interest:
“As revealed also with letters to his loved grandson Barky, Pauling had an idea for increasing the amount of energy within certain compounds, and came up with a few theories on how to maximize the amount of energy held by particles in order to achieve cold fusion. He hypothesized that ‘the stored energy in PdDx, x > 0.6, might be produced either by high pressure of H2 (D2 or T2) – heavier hydrogen isotopes – with Pd, Ti, or other metals’. Pauling speculated that an augmented detonation could produce shock waves that would accelerate particles, perhaps along channels in the metals, to prompt fusion by reaction. His proposed methods of increasing stored energy included shooting pellets of the compound into a heated chamber, utilizing plasma in a tokamak or focusing a detonation wave within conical metal or something similar”.
Finally, you can find a very long and beautiful interview with the late Pauling here. The following is an extract in which he gives advice to young students:
“Even 50 years ago I was recommending to students in the California Institute of Technology – where I taught for many years – who came to me for advice to do graduate work in chemistry rather than in biology, even if they were interested in biology. They could take some courses in biology, but they could do reading by themselves to learn most of biology. Genetics was already a good science in biology. I recommended taking a course in genetics. So ever since then, I have said to students: if you are interested in science, I think a good thing for you to get is as much training as possible in the basic sciences – mathematics, physics, chemistry, including physical chemistry. And then you can move on into these more applied fields”.
“I have always liked working in some scientific direction that nobody else is working in”.
Linus Pauling, Nobel Laureate