Excerpt from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence" by Robert Danziger
Linus Pauling is one of my heroes. The first man to win two Nobel Prizes,
the first for chemistry and the second for peace. I know this because I was flipping through the channels one
day when I heard an interviewer ask an elderly gentleman, “How did you get so
many great ideas to win two Nobel Prizes?” He replied, “We’re not on this earth to have great ideas;
we’re on this earth to have ideas and a principle of selection.”
The statement was riveting, like being
struck by a bolt of lightning, and by lightning, I mean genius. I stared at the TV. Who was this guy? It was Linus Pauling. Dr. Linus Pauling.
What I didn’t know, but learned many years
later, after having heard Linus introduced as “the first man to win two Nobel Prizes”
countless times, was that he was actually the second person to win twice. A woman, Marie Curie, won the Nobel Prize
for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. First man, but second person.
I met Dr. Pauling on a flight from San Jose.
The seat next to mine was the only one still empty, and I heard a voice say,
“Is that seat empty?” I looked up
and it was Linus Pauling, and for probably the only time in my life I gushed
like a groupie and literally shouted, “Linus Pauling!” Embarrassed, he quickly sat down beside
me, then people came up to him for his autograph or just to say hello.
I had a chance to ask him if the quote above
was accurate, and he said, “Sounds like something I might have said.”
- - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Gene Guth was my chief chemist at
Sunlaw. His son, Dr. Ted, handled
environmental matters for Sunlaw and arranged for us to hire Gene after he
retired as chief chemist at TRW, where he co-invented rocket fuels and the air
bag. Gene knew Linus Pauling and
arranged for us to discuss the greenhouse gas CO2. I was interested in designing an atom
or molecule that would want to combine with CO2 and loosen CO2’s
bonds so we could make it into something useful instead of a threat. We’d planted a hundred thousand trees,
studied throwing CO2 into the sea or underground, and were
supporting wind and solar energy.
We knew that separating CO2 would be easier to do in a natural
gas power plant than a coal-fired one.
Natural gas-fired power plants put out a lot
less greenhouse gases than power plants that use coal or oil, but they still
put out a lot. We’d made a profit
in eliminating three other pollutants, so maybe we could do the same for CO2.
We started working on it. Linus Pauling had started speculating
on a geometry for an atom or molecule that could do the job, but unfortunately
Dr. Pauling died before we could complete the work.
I know this is supposed to be a funny book,
but if someone out there knows someone interested in theoretical chemistry,
this is an area I think deserves further study. If you are a theoretical chemist, what are you reading silly
books like this one for? GET BACK
But seriously, to all those
folks out there in the trenches, working every day for energy independence and
a clean environment coupled with prosperity, despite seemingly insurmountable
obstacles, I love you and thank you.
GET BACK TO WORK.