by Adam Frank, Astrophysicist, University of Rochester
"For many people, one of the greatest difficulties in understanding the scientific narrative of cosmic evolution is how nature took the path from non-life to life. This question of "abiotic genesis" haunts many a science and religion debate with advocates of scriptural literalism unwilling to grant that natural processes, unmediated by a higher intelligence, could have taken "dead" matter and created living material.
"Part of this story, however, is the funny thing that happened to scientists studying the origin of life over the last 80 years. Their perspectives were profoundly rewired.
"In the 1950s, chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey performed a brilliant and brilliantly illustrative experiment. Miller and Urey created a simulated version of the early Earth in a test tube. An "atmosphere" of hydrogen, ammonia and methane was created in one flask. An "ocean" of liquid water was held in a separate flask. The two were connected and a high voltage discharge was set up in the atmospheric flask to act as lightening (and a source of UV light)."
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