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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 7 Issue 3 (2002) pp 149-154

Miller–Urey Revisited: When Lightning Strikes the Earth

William Paneral, Brent Leslie, Derek Lovingood, Robert Stapleton, Mike Anderson, Anna McRae, Leri Atwater, Thomas Manning,* and Dennis Phillips

Department of Chemistry, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA 31698,, and Chemistry Department, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
Received February 1, 2002. Accepted March 19, 2002

Published online: 24 May 2002

Abstract. A discharge is arced to different solutions containing the simple molecular species water, methanol, and ammonia. We show that the impact of the discharge at the discharge–solution interface produces a range of organic molecules, including amino acids and polymers containing carboxylate, amine, imine, and cyano groups. The classic Miller–Urey experiment, of which there are hundreds of variations, changing parameters such as gas composition, pressures, and voltage have been tested, involves the production of simple amino acids and other species in the gas phase in an arc discharge. This work’s emphasis is the production of various chemical species at a discharge–liquid interface. The analysis of the product is conducted by IR, UV–VIS, LC–MS and MALDI–MS. As a laboratory exercise or a demonstration, this simple derivation of the Miller–Urey experiment can be used in a variety of teaching settings, from high school through advanced undergraduate research classes to demonstrate the basic hypothesis of how life on Earth may have started.

Key Words:  Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry; Miller-Urey; molecular evolution; amino acid; discharge; lightning; polymer; amine; carboxylate

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Issue date: June 7, 2002

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