Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Urey’s Conception of Origins of Life

  • Stephane Tirard
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_1636-3


Harold Clayton Urey (1893–1981) was an American physical chemist who earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for his work on the heavy isotope of hydrogen (deuterium). Urey isolated deuterium by repeatedly distilling a sample of liquid hydrogen and demonstrated the existence of heavy water (HDO). During WWII, Urey contributed to the Manhattan Project by developing a gaseous diffusion method for separating 235U from 238U.

After the war, he moved to academic life where he dedicated to develop cosmochemistry and isotope geology. He firstly speculated that the early terrestrial atmosphere was composed of ammonia, methane, and hydrogen. In 1952, he suggested that experimentation on production of organic compounds from water and methane, in the presence of ultraviolet light or electric discharges, could be most profitable. He insisted on the fact that primitive atmosphere had to be reduced, and for this reason, he criticized Calvin’s experiment on origins of life. In 1953, one of...


Physical Chemist Organic Compound Bioorganic Chemistry Electric Discharge Nobel Prize 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté des Sciences et des Techniques de NantesCentre François Viète d’Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques EA 1161NantesFrance