Harold C. Urey

National Medal of Science

Physical Sciences

For outstanding contributions to our understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth and for pioneering work in the application of isotopes to the determination of the temperatures of ancient oceans.

For outstanding contributions to our understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth and for pioneering work in the application of isotopes to the determination of the temperatures of ancient oceans.

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Birth
April 29, 1893
Age Awarded
71
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
How The Earth Came To Have Life
Field Of Cosmochemistry
The Miller-Urey Experiment
Awarded by
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Education
University of Montana
University of California, Berkeley
Areas of Impact
Theory & Foundations
Affiliations
University of California, San Diego
Other Prizes
Nobel Prize
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How did we get here? In his lifetime, Harold Urey answered this question by asking the right questions, devising theories about the origin of life on Earth.

In 1952, Urey and his student, Stanley Miller, demonstrated how a “primordial soup” of inorganic compounds could have mixed with lightning discharges to create the organisms that first inhabited our planet.

In the famous Urey-Miller experiment, the scientists heated water, ammonia, methane and hydrogen in a sterile environment, producing a mixture of water vapor and gases. Electric sparks were passed through the container. After a week, amino acids – the building blocks for proteins – had formed.

These ideas opened the door for further research into the origin of life and the idea that humans aren’t alone in the universe. “Life is not a miracle,” Urey said. “It is a natural phenomenon, and can be expected to appear whenever there is a planet whose conditions duplicate those of Earth.”

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