Melvin Calvin and Carbon in Photosynthesis

Resources with Additional Information

Melvin Calvin
Courtesy Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory

'On September 2, 1945, ... Ernest Lawrence, Director of UC Berkeley's Radiation Laboratory, suggested to chemistry professor and "Rad Lab" researcher Melvin Calvin that "now is the time to do something useful with radioactive carbon."

That nudge eventually led Calvin to uncover the secrets of how plants capture energy from the sun. The research earned Calvin the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry '1 "for his research on the carbon dioxide assimilation in plants".

'By the 1930s, scientists were aware that plants took in carbon dioxide and water and released oxygen. That decade, radioactive isotopes were first used as "tags" to trace organic molecules through chemical processes. However, the first radioisotope tracers decayed too quickly to make it through the full photosynthesis reaction. Using the newly-discovered Carbon 14 as a tracer though, Calvin and his colleagues followed the entire path of carbon through photosynthesis. From the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide to its sunlight-fueled conversion via chlorophyll into carbohydrates and other compounds, the researchers shed light on the whole photosynthesis question.

That work eventually sparked the US Department of Energy's research into solar energy as a renewable power source.

"If you know how to make chemical or electrical energy out of solar energy the way plants do it – without going through a heat engine – that is certainly a trick," Calvin once said. "And I'm sure we can do it. It's just a question of how long it will take to solve the technical question." '1

1 Edited excerpt from Melvin Calvin and Photosynthesis, Science Matters@Berkeley, Volume 2, Issue 11

Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Melvin Calvin, the Calvin cycle, and photosynthesis is available in electronic documents and on the Web.

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis: 'Summary' Reports
Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis: Individual Reports
I. - V.
VI. - X.
XI. - XV.
XVI. - XXI.
Additional Web Pages

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Documents:

'Summary' Reports:

Photosynthesis: The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis and the Primary Quantum Conversion Act of Photosynthesis, DOE Technical Report, November 1952

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis, DOE Technical Report, October 1960

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis [Nobel Prize Lecture] , DOE Technical Report, December 1961

Individual Reports:

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis, DOE Technical Report, March 1948

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis II. Amino Acids, DOE Technical Report, May 1948

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis III., DOE Technical Report, June 1948

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis IV. The Identity and Sequence of the Intermediates in Sucrose Synthesis, DOE Technical Report, December 1948

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis V. Paper Chromatography and Radioautography of the Products, DOE Technical Report, June 1949

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The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis VI., DOE Technical Report, June 1949

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis VII. Respiration and Photosynthesis, DOE Technical Report, July 1949

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis VIII. The Role of Malic Acid, DOE Technical Report, January 1950

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis IX. Photosynthesis, Photoreduction, and the Hydrogen-Oxygen-Carbon Dioxide Dark Reaction, DOE Technical Report, February 1950

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis X. Carbon Dioxide Assimilation in Plants, DOE Technical Report, April 1950

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Melvin Calvin and photosynthesis apparatus
Courtesy Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory


Calvin in the old Radiation Laboratory
with the apparatus used in his
groundbreaking work on photosynthesis.

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XI. The Role of Glycolic Acid, DOE Technical Report, September 1950

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XII. Some Temperature Effects, DOE Technical Report, June 1951

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XIII. pH Effects in C{sup 14}O{sub 2} Fixation by Scenedesmus, DOE Technical Report, October 1951

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XIV., DOE Technical Report, June 1951

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XV. Ribulose and Sedoheptulose, DOE Technical Report, January 1952

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The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XVI. Kinetic Relationships of the Intermediates in Steady State Photosynthesis, DOE Technical Report, June 1952

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XVII. Phosphorus Compounds as Intermediates in Photosynthesis , DOE Technical Report, July 1952

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XVIII. The Identification of Nucleotide Coenzymes, DOE Technical Report, January 1953

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XIX. The Identification of Sucrose Phosphate in Sugar Beet Leaves, DOE Technical Report, September 1952

The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XX. The Steady State, DOE Technical Report, September 1952

Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis XXI. The Cyclic Regeneration of Carbon Dioxide Acceptor, DOE Technical Report, October 1953

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Additional Web Pages:

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