Modified Miller–Urey experiment

Miller-Urey experiment based on my ideas and theories

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The Miller-Urey experiment serves to confirm the hypothesis that under the conditions of a postulated urate atmosphere the formation of organic compounds, especially amino acids, is possible as a prerequisite for the emergence of primitive unicellular life forms (chemical evolution). However, there are some significant differences between the original experiment and my version. Instead of sparks, I use plasma that is controlled by a microcontroller. The plasma is so hot that it oxidizes the nitrogen in the air. The Vigreux column serves as intermediate storage for the condensate and is supposed to give it time for chemical reactions before it runs back into the main flask. The starting substance is a mixture of water and formic acid, which form an azeotrope. Formic acid is used because traces of it have been detected spectroscopically in space. The aim of the modified Miller–Urey experiment is to synthesize amino acids too.

Fig. 1 Complete experiment setup

It is considered certain that there was no free oxygen in the primordial atmosphere. Therefore, in the first step of the experiment, the nitrogen in the air is oxidized by the oxygen in the air through the plasma.

Fig. 1 clearly shows a reddish-brown gas in the reaction flask. This is nitrogen dioxide.

If the experiment is successful, traces of formic acid in space could indicate extraterrestrial life.

As I cannot analyze the reaction products produced in the experiment myself, I will send them to an appropriate laboratory. However, I will run a ninhydrin sample in advance. With a ninhydrin solution, you can detect amino acids, peptides, and proteins. In case of a positive detection, the solution turns deep blue or purple, which is called Ruhemann's purple. Since ninhydrin is also very sensitive to ammonia, the sample must also be analyzed for this. I will use the so-called cross-test (Kreuzprobe in German) for this purpose. All you need is some concentrated sodium hydroxide solution, two watch glasses, and pH indicator paper.

The high voltage is supplied by a line transformer, which is controlled by a high-power MOSFET. The voltage is about 45000 V, and the line transformer module draws around 4 A. The plasma must be clocked to give the electrodes time to cool down, otherwise, they would melt away in the shortest possible time.

Fig. 2 Close-up of the spark gap

Fig. 3 Close-up of the 24V/16A switching power supply, the power MOSFET, high-voltage source, and Arduino Uno.

Fig. 4 The gas wash bottle ensures that the gases in the reaction flask can expand, but no ambient air can enter.

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Robert J. Berger wrote 06/22/2023 at 05:53 point

I did something like this for my 9th grade Science Fair project (that was in like 1965!) I used a Tesla coil to generate the 'plasma'. Used paper chromatography to show there were amino acids after several days of running the experiment. I would say that I had a lot of uncontrolled aspects to the experiment though.

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M. Bindhammer wrote 06/22/2023 at 07:06 point

Very cool. Did you use the original gas mixture (CH4, NH3, H2)?

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metaprax wrote 04/11/2023 at 21:10 point

Space, Jovian planets and the primitive earth are/were reducing atmospheres with H2, CH4 and NH3. Sparking those gases (excluding oxygen) then introducing water will give amino acids, nucleic acids, etc. Analyze using paper chromatography or thin layer chromatography.

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M. Bindhammer wrote 04/11/2023 at 21:54 point

I would like to note that this is a theory and not a fact. Also, it is an assumption that in the first primordial atmosphere, only traces of hydrogen, methane, and ammonia were present.

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Dan Maloney wrote 04/10/2023 at 21:07 point

Very cool, I'd love to see the analysis results when they come back. Keep us posted!

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M. Bindhammer wrote 04/11/2023 at 07:37 point

Thanks Dan. For sure I will post the result here.

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Dan Maloney wrote 06/10/2023 at 19:06 point

Wrote this one up for the blog, should publish soon. Thanks for tipping us off!

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