Harold Urey, Deuterium, Cosmochemistry,
Studies of the Origin of Life, and Theory of Earth's Evolution

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Harold Urey
Courtesy of A&M-Commerce

"Harold Clayton Urey was a scientist of considerable scope whose discovery of deuterium helped him win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934. … [In 1931 he] had discovered the existence of heavy water, in which the molecules consist of an atom of oxygen and two atoms of heavy hydrogen … . The identification of deuterium has been called one of the foremost achievements of modern science and has had a significant effect on research in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. … "1

"He used his Nobel Prize money for support of his own research, as well as I. I. Rabi's work on molecular beams."2

"For the next decade, Dr. Urey occupied himself with the experimental and theoretical aspects of isotopic chemistry, and he soon became the leading authority on the subject. …

During World War II, [he] applied his work in uranium isotope separation to the development of the atomic bomb. … Dr. Urey was appointed to the position of Director of War Research for the Special Alloy Materials (SAM) Laboratories at Columbia, where he worked on the uranium separation problem. "1

'On December 6 1941, Urey was appointed Program Chief for uranium isotope separation by gaseous diffusion, in Section S-1 of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development. … This secret organization, created by President Roosevelt to direct uranium war research, initiated and supervised the Manhattan Project in WWII. …

After 1950 his interests turned to the chemistry of the planets, and he is credited with initiating rigorous study of “cosmochemistry”, a term that he himself coined. In 1953 he and PhD student Stanley Miller performed a novel experiment on amino acid synthesis via electrical discharge, in gases above warm water, simulating the earth’s original reducing atmosphere and oceans. This experiment had enormous influence in subsequent research on the origin of life.'3

'In a long and varied career, he contributed to significant advances in the fields of physical chemistry and geochemistry, …[as well as being] credited with being the founder of "cosmochemistry," … . He conducted fundamental work on the structure of atoms and molecules, the thermodynamic properties of gases, and the separation of isotopes. In the late 1940s, he invented the methods now universally used to analyze climate warming and cooling cycles. '2

"Urey took an active interest in the United States space program, particularly the Ranger and Apollo moon missions. … Associated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he served as consultant to the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board and was a member of the Planetology Committee. He personally analyzed samples of moon rock obtained by the moon missions."1

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Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Harold Clayton Urey,deuterium, heavy water, heavy hydrogen, cosmochemistry, geochemistry, isotope chemistry, studies of the origin of life, and theory of earth's evolutionis available in electronic documents and on the Web.

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