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Harold C. Urey

Harold C. UreyAKA Harold Clayton Urey

Born: 29-Apr-1893
Birthplace: Walkerton, IN
Died: 5-Jan-1981
Location of death: La Jolla, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Fairfield Cemetery, Fairfield Center, IN

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

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Discovered Deuterium

American chemist and physicist Harold C. Urey studied under Niels Bohr at Copenhagen, and is best known for his 1931 discovery of deuterium (heavy hydrogen, the isotope of hydrogen, with one proton and one neutron in its nucleus). He later said he had hoped that this discovery "might have the practical value of, say, neon in neon signs", but its principle use has proven to be in nuclear fusion reactions. Urey won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934, and also isolated heavy isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, conducted respected research in astronomy, geology, and biology.

During World War I he worked as for the Barrett Chemical Company, preparing toluene for the manufacture of trinitrotoluene (TNT). In 1930 he was co-author of Atoms, Molecules, and Quanta, the first widely-used English-language textbook on quantum mechanics and atomic and molecular systems. He was conducting classified research into development of atomic weapons even before World War II, and became a key figure in the Manhattan Project. Working with a team of scientists, he developed the Urey diffusion method to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238.

Within months of the atomic bombing of two cities in Japan, however, Urey authored "I'm A Frightened Man" in the widely-read Collier's magazine, outlining the dangers posed by this new technology. He became a more politically controversial figure in 1952, when he wrote a letter to President Harry S. Truman in support of his colleagues, Morton Sobell and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been accused of espionage. He later became active with the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressing concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the safety of nuclear power generators.

The Miller-Urey experiment, conducted by Urey's graduate student Stanley Miller in 1953, showed that numerous amino acids necessary for life can be easily produced by heating and agitating ammonia, hydrogen, methane, and water in an airtight container. This "primordial soup" experiment contributed to now-widely accepted theories explaining the origins of the Earth and other planets.

The son of a Christian minister, Urey became an atheist early in his adulthood. He is the namesake of an asteroid, a lunar crater, and the Urey Prize of the American Astronomical Society, awarded annually since 1984 to honor outstanding achievements in planetary science by a young scientist. He was outspoken in his belief that life on other planets is probable, and that humans cannot possibly be the most intelligent species in the universe.

Father: Samuel Clayton Urey (Church of the Brethern minister, b. 1866, d. 1899)
Mother: Cora Rebecca Reinsehl Urey
Wife: Frieda Daum Urey (b. 1898, m. 12-Jun-1926, d. 1992, three daughters, one son)
Daughter: Gertrude Elizabeth Urey Baranger
Daughter: Frieda Rebecca Urey Brown
Daughter: Mary Alice Urey Lorey (b. 2-Dec-1934)
Son: John Clayton Urey (optometrist)

    High School: Kendallville High School, Kendallville, IN (1911)
    University: Teacher's Certificate, Earlham College (1911)
    Teacher: at three public schools in Indiana and Montana (1911-14)
    University: BS Biology, Montana State University (1917)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Montana State University (1919-21)
    University: PhD Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley (1923)
    Scholar: Theoretical Physics, University of Copenhagen (1923-24)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University (1924-29)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Columbia University (1929-34)
    Professor: Chemistry, Columbia University (1934-45)
    Professor: Chemistry, Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago (1945-52)
    Professor: Ryerson Professor of Chemistry, University of Chicago (1952-58)
    Professor: Chemistry, Oxford University (1956-57)
    Professor: Chemistry, University of California at San Diego (1958-70, emeritus 1970-81)
    Teacher: Scrimps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA (1958-81)

    Honeywell Research Chemist, Barrett Chemical Company (1917-19)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Association of University Professors
    American Astronautical Society Fellow
    American Astronomical Society
    American Chemical Society
    American Geophysical Union Honorary Fellow
    American Institute of Chemists Honorary
    American Philosophical Society 1935
    American Physical Society
    Argonne National Laboratory 1946-58
    British Chemical Society Foreign Member
    Cosmos Club
    Federation of American Scientists Life Member
    Franklin Institute Honorary
    Geological Society of America
    International Association of Geochimica and Cosmochimica
    International Astronautical Academy
    International Platform Association
    Mellon Institute Honorary
    Meteoritical Society Fellow
    National Academy of Sciences
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Royal Astronomical Society Foreign Member
    Royal Institution of Great Britain Foreign Member
    Royal Society Foreign Member
    Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Journal of Chemical Physics Editor, 1933-40
    Manhattan Project 1940-45
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1934
    Willard Gibbs Medal 1934
    Davy Medal 1940
    Benjamin Franklin Medal 1943 (by the Franklin Institute)
    Congressional Order of Merit 1946
    National Medal of Science 1964
    Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal 1966
    Arthur L. Day Medal 1969
    Frederick C. Leonard Medal 1969
    Priestley Medal 1973
    V. M. Goldschmidt Award 1975
    Heart Attack 5-Jan-1981 (fatal)
    Asteroid Namesake 4716 Urey
    Lunar Crater Urey (27.9 N 87.4 E, 38 km. diameter)

Author of books:
Atoms, Molecules, and Quanta (1930, textbook; with Arthur Edward Ruark)
The Planets: Their Origin and Development (1952, non-fiction)


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