Jenny Zual - miller_urey.pdf - Part I – A Flash of Insight I know how to test this ​ It was the fall of 1951 Twenty-one-year-old Stanley had

Jenny Zual - miller_urey.pdf - Part I – A Flash of...

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Part I – A Flash of Insight I know how to test this! * It was the fall of 1951. Twenty-one-year-old Stanley had recently traveled from his native California to the University of Chicago to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry. At a departmental seminar, his imagination was captured by the presentation from a professor in his department, the Nobel Laureate Harold C. Urey. “In the course of an extended study on the origin of the planets I have come to certain definite conclusions relative to the early chemical conditions on the Earth and their bearing on the origin of life,” said Urey. ** Stan listened intently while Urey continued to explain how the early Earth atmosphere was not as it is today. “One sees that hydrogen (H 2 ) was a prominent constituent of the primitive atmosphere and hence that methane (CH 4 ) was as well. Nitrogen was present as nitrogen gas (N 2 ) at high temperatures but may have been present as ammonia (NH 3 ) or ammonium salt at low temperatures.” Stan was riveted. Urey went on to suggest, as had the Russian biochemist Oparin before him, that organic molecules (compounds containing carbon atoms) might have formed on the early Earth from inorganic gases. This was provocative because it suggested that the molecules of life (which are organic) could be created by simple chemistry, and it could explain how the building blocks of life were first created on our primitive lifeless planet. “It seems to me that experimentation on the production of organic compounds from water (H 2 O) and methane in the presence of ultra-violet light of approximately the spectral distribution estimated for sunlight would be most profitable. The investigation of possible effects of electric discharges on the reactions should also be tried since electric storms in the [Earth’s early] atmosphere can be postulated reasonably.” I know how to test this! thought Stan again. Circumstances didn’t allow him to approach Urey immediately, but a few
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