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Miller, Stanley Lloyd

mixture organic energy experiment

(1930–) US chemist: experimented to simulate production of pre-biotic biochemicals from simple gas mixtures.

A graduate of California and Chicago, Miller worked at the University of California at San Diego from 1960. His most familiar work was done when he was a research student with in Chicago in 1953. Interested in the possible origin of life on Earth, he devised an experiment using an early planetary reducing atmosphere as proposed by Urey in 1952; it contained water vapour, methane, ammonia and hydrogen. This simple gas mixture (H2O,CH4,NH3,H2 ) was passed for some days through an electric spark discharge (to simulate a thunderstorm’s energy input) and Miller then analysed it. He found traces of hydrogen cyanide, methanal, methanoic, ethanoic and other acids, urea and a mixture of amino acids. The result is certainly suggestive, bearing in mind the short period of the experiment in comparison with ‘prebiotic time’. Since Miller’s work, others using similar methods and other intense energy sources (eg ultraviolet light and gamma radiation) have produced more complex organic molecules (including the nucleic acid base, adenine) but it remains very unclear how a mixture of organic compounds might have evolved into something like a living system as we now know it.

Millikan, Robert Andrews [next] [back] Miller, Page Putnam (1940–) - Public History

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