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Melvin Calvin

Melvin CalvinBorn: 8-Apr-1911
Birthplace: St. Paul, MN
Died: 8-Jan-1997
Location of death: Berkeley, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Deciphered photosynthesis

Melvin Calvin showed how to use the radioactive isotope carbon-14 as a tracer to study complex organic chemical systems, detailing the path of carbon in photosynthesis, laying out the what is now called the Calvin cycle of carbon movements through a plant. In his experiments, plant cells were allowed to absorb carbon dioxide that had been marked with the radioisotope carbon-14, then immersed in boiling alcohol, allowing the synthesized compounds to be identified. His work, first published in 1950, changed the scientific understanding of photosynthesis, establishing that sunlight causes a reaction in a plant's chlorophyll (not in its carbon dioxide as was previously believed) to manufacture organic compounds.

He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1961, and also conducted respected research into brain chemistry, chemical carcinogenesis, the chemical evolution of life, the feasibility of using oil-producing plants as a renewable source of energy, moon rock analysis, organic geochemistry, radiation chemistry, and the role of chlorophyll in quantum conversion. His parents were Russian immigrants who ran a neighborhood grocery store in Detroit, and Calvin said he first became intrigued with chemistry by wondering at the chemical make-up of the soaps and breads on the shop's shelves. His college education was delayed by the Great Depression, during which he dropped out of college and worked for several years at a brass factory in Detroit.

Sister: Sandra Davis
Wife: Genevieve Elle Jemtegaard (m. 4-Oct-1942, d. 1987 cancer, two daughters, one son)
Daughter: Elin Sowle
Daughter: Karole Campbell
Son: Noel

    University: Central High School, Detroit, MI (1927)
    University: BS Chemistry, Michigan College of Mining and Technology (1931)
    University: PhD Chemistry, University of Minnesota (1935)
    Scholar: University of Manchester (1935-37)
    Teacher: Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley (1937-47)
    Administrator: Chemical Biodynamics Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1946-63)
    Professor: Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley (1947-63)
    Professor: Molecular Biology, University of California at Berkeley (1963-71)
    Professor: Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley (1971-80)

    Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 1935-37
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1961
    Davy Medal 1964
    Priestley Medal 1978
    American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal 1979
    ACS Oesper Award 1981
    National Medal of Science 1989
    Manhattan Project
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Chemical Society President, 1971
    American Philosophical Society
    American Society of Plant Physiologists President, 1963-64
    German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina Foreign Member
    The Japan Academy Foreign Member
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    National Academy of Sciences
    National Defense Research Committee
    Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
    Royal Society Foreign Member
    Society for General Systems Research
    Member of the Board of Dow Chemical
    Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society
    Lithuanian Ancestry (paternal)
    Russian Ancestry
    Heart Attack 1949
    Heart Attack 8-Jan-1997 (fatal)

Author of books:
The Theory of Organic Chemistry (1940, non-fiction)
Isotopic Carbon (1949, non-fiction)
The Chemistry of Metal Chelate Compounds (1952, non-fiction)
The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis (1957, non-fiction)
The Photosynthesis of Carbon Compounds (1962, non-fiction; with James Bassham)
Following the Trail of Light: A Scientific Odyssey (1992, memoir)


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