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Miller Spark Discharge Experiment

Ian Vaithilingam ianv at vianet.on.ca
Mon May 20 22:49:28 EST 1996

Fellow students, teachers, and scientists,
        I have become facinated with early work in the chemical origins of
life.  The Urey/Miller spark discharge experiment of the 1950's (ie. "the
artificial   synthesis of amino acids under primitive earth conditions")
has inspired
me to take on the same project for my high-school biochemistry course. 
The experiment was a lab simulation of primeval conditions on the earth,
investigating the chemical origins of life.  In brief, methane, ammonia,
hydrogen and water were circulated in a apparatus and sparked by high
voltage current - resulting in the production of amino acids (the 'builing
blocks' of life).
        I have read Miller's early publications (ie. the Science
articles), and have set up my simplifed version of your experiment.  I was
wondering if anyone might have any suggestions that would optimize the
production of amino acids.
        My apparatus is as follows:
        -one 2-L Erlenmeyer flask serves as the spark chamber.
        -a large stopper at the top has four holes/valves: one for gas in,
one for gas out, and the other two for the electrodes that extend to the
centre of the flask
        -the gas-out valve is connected to an underwater seal.
        -a 50 000 V tesla coil provides the spark source
        My technique:
        -250 mL of 0.5 M NH3OH solution was placed in the flask
        -I purged the air out of the flask with propane
        -I then purged the propane out with methane gas
        -the methane was then partially displaced with hydrogen gas (I had
to guess how much to let into the chamber)
        -the spark was initiated (a green spark at first, then blue), --
for 10 min, the water was heated and vapourized, and for the next 10 min
the flask was cooled and condensed (my wrapping flask in a cold rag) to
simulate primitive atmosphere
        -this cycle is continuing as I type this!
        error:  Water seems to be condensing on the electrodes and acting
as an insulator, reducing the rate of sparking.  

        Thank you very much in advance..  My entire class is very excited
about the results that the experiment will bring about.  Also, thank you
to all the people on the Usenet that have helped me with this project so
far - I never would have proceed this far without you (I will get around
to thanking you personally after this expt. is over and I have some
                                        Ian Vaithilingam <ianv at vianet.on.ca>
                                                Biochemistry Dept. (student)
                                                O¹Gorman High School
                                                Timmins, ON, Canada

                "God does not play dice."
                            - A. Einstein

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