Urey, Harold Clayton, 1893-

Alternative names
Birth 1893-04-29
Death 1981-01-05

Biographical notes:

Died in 1981.

From the description of Oral history interview with Harold Clayton Urey, 1964 March 24. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84584513

Epithet: US chemist, Nobel laureate

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000561.0x0000b4

Mildred Cohn was a biochemist and biophysicist. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1938 and was a research associate in biochemistry at several universities (George Washington University, 1937-1938; Cornell University, 1938-1946; Washington University, 1946-1960; Harvard Medical School, 1950-1951). In 1960 she moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where she was professor of biophysics and physical chemistry, 1961-1978; Benjamin Rush Professor of Physiological Chemistry, 1978-1982; and professor emeritus of physiological chemistry, 1982-2009.

From the guide to the Mildred Cohn papers, 1947-1980, 1947-1980, (American Philosophical Society)

Harold Clayton Urey (1893-1981) received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California in 1923. Following postgraduate work at Niels Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics, he taught at Johns Hopkins University, and was appointed Associate Professor in Chemistry at Columbia University in 1929. In 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of deuterium. He continued to research isotopic chemistry, and particularly the separation of isotopes. Between 1940 and 1945, Urey served as Director of War Research, Atomic Bomb Project, at Columbia University, where he contributed to the Manhattan Project. In 1945, he moved to the University of Chicago's Institute for Nuclear Studies, becoming the Martin A. Ryerson Professor in 1952. His work at University of Chicago made major contributions to the field of geochemistry. He later went on to positions at Oxford and University of California. Following World War II, Urey advocated arms control and nuclear safety, joining the Union of Concerned Scientists. Later in his life, he was involved in the U.S. space program as an advisor and consultant.

From the description of Harold C. Urey papers 1932-1953 (inclusive). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 624025123

Winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1934 for the discovery of deuterium, Urey contributed to major advances in physical chemistry, geochemistry, lunar science, and astrochemistry; he also made fundamental contributions to the Manhattan Project during World War II.

From the description of Papers, 1929-1981, bulk 1958-1978. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 25062643


From the description of Reminiscences of Harold Clayton Urey : oral history, 1964. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122528800

Urey (1893-1981) was a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who contributed to significant advances in the fields of physical chemistry, geochemistry, lunar science, and astrochemistry. He received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1934 for his discovery of deuterium, and made key scientific contributions to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. He conducted fundamental work on the structure of atoms and molecules, the thermodynamic properties of gases, the separation of isotopes, and the chemical problems involved in the origin of the earth, the moon, and the solar system. He was also an advocate of nuclear arms control working actively with other scientists to promote global cooperation and to prevent nuclear proliferation and conflict. Among Urey's teaching positions were posts at Montana Sate University, Johns Hopkins University, columbia University, the University of chicago, and the University of California, San Diego.

From the description of Papers, 1929-1981. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80181023


Harold Clayton Urey was a scientist of considerable scope whose discovery of deuterium helped him win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934. Urey also made fundamental contributions to the production of the atomic bomb through his development of the isotope separation processes for the Manhattan Project. In the period following World War II, Urey played an active part in advocating nuclear arms control, in promoting space exploration and in the development of the newly created campus of the University of California, San Diego.

Born in Walkerton, Indiana, on April 29, 1893, Harold Urey was the son of Samuel Clayton and Cora Rebecca (Reinohl) Urey. His early schooling took place in rural Indiana. After graduating from high school he taught in country schools in Indiana and Montana for three years. In 1914 he entered Montana State University where he majored in zoology and minored in chemistry. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1917 and worked as an industrial chemist in Philadelphia until the end of World War I. He then returned to Montana as an instructor in the department of chemistry, where he remained for two years before pursuing a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley.

At Berkeley Urey studied thermodynamics and worked with Gilbert N. Lewis. Urey's doctoral research dealt with the rotational contributions to the heat capacities and entropies of gases, a subject not well understood at the time. He was able to form calculations which led directly to the present methods of calculating thermodynamic functions from spectroscopic data.

In 1923 Urey attended the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen. There he studied under Niels Bohr, who was conducting seminal work in the theory of atomic structure. During this period Urey became involved in the international development of atomic and molecular physical science, and he made the acquaintance of prominent scientists of the time, including Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Georg von Hevesy. Also in Europe Urey met Albert Einstein, who became a life-long friend.

Dr. Urey returned to the United States in 1924, and for the next five years he served as Associate in Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. From 1929 to 1934 he held the position of Associate Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University. His research during these years was principally devoted to experimental and theoretical work in spectroscopy and quantum mechanics. At this time he collaborated with A.E. Ruark in writing ATOMS, MOLECULES AND QUANTA, one of the earliest books on quantum mechanics. This work eventually became one of the standard texts on the subject.

On a visit to Seattle, Dr. Urey met Frieda Daum, a bacteriologist working in a doctor's office. Ms. Daum's sister had been a friend of Urey's at Montana. Married in 1926, Frieda and Harold Urey had four children: Gertrude Elizabeth, Frieda Rebecca, Mary Alice, and John Clayton.

In 1931 Dr. Urey announced that he, together with George M. Murphy and Ferdinand G. Brickwedde, had discovered the existence of heavy water, in which the molecules consist of an atom of oxygen and two atoms of heavy hydrogen or deuterium. The identification of deuterium has been called one of the foremost achievements of modern science and has had a significant effect on research in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. As the discoverer of this isotope, Urey was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934. His Nobel Prize address, delivered on February 14, 1935, was entitled, "Some Thermodynamic Properties of Hydrogen and Deuterium."

Urey became the first editor of the JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS in 1933. The American Institute of Physics published this journal in response to the developing interest in sub-atomic and molecular spectroscopy and structure. Urey remained editor until 1941, establishing the journal as a leader in the newly created field of chemical physics.

For the next decade, Dr. Urey occupied himself with the experimental and theoretical aspects of isotopic chemistry, and he soon became the leading authority on the subject. In 1934 he was appointed to the position of Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University, and from 1939 to 1942 he was the executive officer of the Chemistry Department at Columbia. Urey's scientific work became increasingly concerned with the separation of isotopes. In 1940 the United States government recruited him to serve as director of the program, established at Columbia, for separation of uranium isotopes and deuterium oxide production.

During World War II, Dr. Urey applied his work in uranium isotope separation to the development of the atomic bomb. The U.S. Army assumed responsibility for atomic weapons development -- eventually called the Manhattan Project -- and General Leslie Groves served as overall director of the effort. Dr. Urey was appointed to the position of Director of War Research for the Special Alloy Materials (SAM) Laboratories at Columbia, where he worked on the uranium separation problem. He also served as one of three program chiefs in the Manhattan Project. Although awarded the Congressional Medal of Merit for his contributions, Urey's concern for the destructive consequences of atomic weapons, and his aversion to secret work, prompted him to leave the project.

In response to the U.S. use of atomic bombs against Japan, Dr. Urey joined Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and other scientists to form the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. This organization dedicated itself to enunciating the ethical and moral problems involved in the use of atomic weapons. Urey also joined with physicist Leo Szilard to oppose the U.S. military's administration of atomic power and to advocate limitations in the use of the atomic bomb.

In 1945 Urey joined the faculty of the University of Chicago and contributed his efforts to the establishment of the Institute of Nuclear Studies, together with Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Joseph Mayer, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and others. At Chicago, Urey focused his attention on geochemistry and the problems of the cosmos. His work on the measurement of the paleotemperatures of ancient oceans is considered one of the great developments of the earth sciences. This work involved a wide scope of disciplines ranging from Urey's early biological interests to his studies of isotopic fractionation and the history of the earth. While at Chicago, Urey wrote THE PLANETS: THEIR ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT, in which he constructed the first systematic and detailed chronology of the origin of the earth, the moon, the meteorites, and the solar system.

Urey participated in Operation Crossroads in 1946. This was a major atomic bomb test carried out by the U.S. government at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. As a scientific observer, Urey joined other prominent scientists, including Roger Revelle, future director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In 1952 the trials of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell attracted Dr. Urey's attention. The Rosenbergs, accused of atomic espionage and given a highly publicized and controversial trial, were eventually sentenced to death. Sobell, tried as a co-conspirator, was given a long prison sentence. These cases became causes celebres during in the Postwar era. Reading the trial documents, Dr. Urey seriously questioned whether the Rosenbergs and Sobell had received justice from the U.S. courts. He publicly expressed his concern, urging clemency in letters to President Truman, the trial judge and the NEW YORK TIMES. Urey's efforts brought him a flood of mail, some critical, some hateful, some favorable. Among the favorable responses was a letter from Albert Einstein, who wrote to Urey: "Your intervention in the Rosenberg case has been one of my most heartening experiences in the human sphere." This letter is filed with Einstein correspondence, box 29 of the papers.

In 1958 Urey accepted a position at the University of California's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. Scripps director Roger Revelle was engaged in establishing a general campus of the University in La Jolla, soon to become the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Revelle had urged Urey to take the Scripps post, and Urey provided valuable assistance in developing the new campus. Many of Urey's Chicago colleagues also moved to UCSD, including Maria Mayer and Joseph Mayer. Leo Szilard came to La Jolla as a fellow of the newly established Salk Institute.

At UCSD Urey formed the nucleus of the chemistry program, which later become a leading center in the field of cosmochemistry. As Professor of Chemistry-at-Large, he continued to teach and conduct active research on the campus. His studies extended over a broad range of interests, including the geophysics of the solid earth, geochemistry, the chronology of meteorites and the solar system, and the origin of meteorites. In 1966 the University of California Board of Regents voted to name UCSD's first academic building (formerly "Building B") "Harold and Frieda Urey Hall" in honor of both Dr. Urey and his wife Frieda. In 1970 Harold Urey was honored with a newly created title: University Professor. He became a Professor Emeritus in 1972.

Continuing his efforts on behalf of nuclear arms control, Urey became a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group with 2,300 members including seven Nobel laureates. In 1975 the organization petitioned President Gerald Ford to decrease the production of nuclear power plants. Urey himself was concerned with the safety of nuclear power and the need for a national plan to dispose of nuclear wastes. He feared that the global expansion of nuclear generating facilities could cause the spread of nuclear weapons.

Urey took an active interest in the United States space program, particularly the Ranger and Apollo moon missions. He chaired the University of California's Statewide Advisory Committee on Space Science from 1959 to 1961. Associated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he served as consultant to the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board and was a member of the Planetology Committee. He personally analyzed samples of moon rock obtained by the moon missions.

Urey received numerous honors in addition to the Nobel Prize. He was awarded more than 20 honorary doctorates, over a dozen medals, and was a member or fellow of nearly 30 societies and academies. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson awarded him the National Medal of Science. Urey's bibliography of scientific publications exceeds 200 titles.

Harold Urey died in his La Jolla home in 1981.

From the guide to the Harold Clayton Urey Papers, 1929-1981, (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)

Harold Clayton Urey was born on April 29, 1893 in Walkerton, Indiana. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Montana in 1917 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California in 1923. Following postgraduate work at Niels Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics, he taught at Johns Hopkins University, and was appointed Associate Professor in Chemistry at Columbia University in 1929. In 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of deuterium. He continued to research isotopic chemistry, and particularly the separation of isotopes.

Between 1940 and 1945, Urey served as Director of War Research, Atomic Bomb Project, at Columbia University, where he contributed to the Manhattan Project. In 1945, he moved to the University of Chicago's Institute for Nuclear Studies, becoming the Martin A. Ryerson Professor in 1952. His work at University of Chicago made major contributions to the field of geochemistry. He later went on to positions at Oxford and University of California.

Following World War II, Urey advocated arms control and nuclear safety, joining the Union of Concerned Scientists. Later in his life, he was involved in the U.S. space program as an advisor and consultant.

Urey's publication include Atoms, Molecules and Quanta (1930, with A.E. Ruark), and The Planets (1952), as well as numerous papers. From 1933 to 1940, he was editor of the Journal of Chemical Physics.

From the guide to the Urey, Harold C. Papers, 1932-1953, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Max Bergmann (February 12, 1886-November 7, 1944) was a biochemist, whose research proved key for the study of biochemical processes. His work on peptide synthesis and protein splitting provided a starting point for modern protein chemistry and the study of enzyme-substrate interactions. He is most noted for developing the carbobenzoxy protecting group, for the synthesis of oligopeptides, using any amino acid in any sequence. He co-authored with his colleague Joseph S. Fruton (1912-2007, APS 1967) several reviews in protein and enzyme chemistry, notably “Proteolytic Enzymes,” in the Annual Review of Biochemistry 10 (1941): 31-46 and “The Specificity of Proteinases,” in Advances in Enzymology 1 (1941): 63-98.

Bergmann was born in Fürth, Germany, the son of a coal merchant named Solomon Bergmann and his wife Rosalie Stettauer. He entered the University of Munich, initially interested in botany, but shifted to chemistry, after being convinced that biological questions could only be answered by the methods of organic chemistry. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1907, and afterward became a student of Emil Fischer (1838-1914, APS 1909), the foremost protein and carbohydrate chemist of the day at the University of Berlin. In 1911 Bergmann received a Ph.D. with a dissertation on acyl polysulfides and became Fischer’s research assistant. In 1912 Bergmann married Emmy Miriam Grunwald with whom he had two children. The marriage ended in divorce, and he remarried Martha Suter in 1926. During World War I Bergmann was exempted from military service because of his research work with Fischer. While working with Fischer, Bergmann made important contributions to carbohydrate, lipid, tannin and amino acid chemistry, developing new methods for the preparation of α-monoglycerides. In 1920 Bergmann was appointed Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and head of the chemistry department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Textile Research.

Bergmann left the University of Berlin in 1921 to become the director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Leather Research and Professor of chemistry at the Dresden Technical University. At Dresden, Bergmann created one of the world’s leading laboratories for the study of protein chemistry. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Bergmann, a Jew, emigrated to the United States. From 1934 until his death Bergmann was affiliated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York.

Bergmann represents the tradition of German organic chemistry applied to biological problems. Working with his mentor Fischer, who sought effective methods to separate and identify amino acids, and who identified the peptide bond as the structure that connects amino acids, Bergmann made many basic contributions to protein and amino acid chemistry. In Dresden he extended Fischer’s work of separating and identifying the amino acid constituents of proteins. In order to establish the conjecture of some protein chemists that proteins were, in fact, polypeptides, containing thousands of amino acids, Bergmann developed new methods of peptide synthesis. The most important discovery came in 1932, when he and his colleague Leonidas Zervas created the carbobenzoxy method allowing them to use any amino acid in any sequence to produce peptides and polypeptides that closely resembled naturally occurring proteins.

Bergmann continued this work in New York at the Rockefeller Institute, stressing two new lines of research: (1) expanding the carbobenzoxy method to form peptides that could serve as substrates for protein-splitting enzymes, and (2) unraveling the total structure of proteins. After becoming head of the chemistry laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in 1937, Bergmann recruited several talented biochemists. Along with his colleague Joseph Fruton, he discovered the first synthetic peptide substrates for which several enzymes were catalysts. When they demonstrated that the enzyme pepsin was able to catalyze the hydrolysis of synthetic peptides, they implicated the peptide bond in protein structure, but also provided the first clear evidence that specific enzymes split peptides at exact linkages in the chain. Their discovery cleared the path for study of how enzymes act as catalysts for every biological function.

Bergmann’s methods of analysis and synthesis proved incapable of solving the riddle of protein structure. He applied methods for separation and quantitative analysis to every amino acid in a protein in an attempt to establish their sequence in the polypeptide chain. In 1938 he proposed a theory of the systematic recurrence in the location of every amino acid residue in the peptide chain of a protein. However, his hypothesis proved an oversimplification. Two biochemists in his working group, Standford Moore and William Stein, showed him that the analytical data did not support his “periodic theory,” and Bergmann was forced to abandon it. Moore and Stein later collaborated in developing novel methods for quantitative analysis of amino acids in protein hydrolysates, methods they perfected after World War II. By 1949 it was possible to determine the order of the links of each amino acid in a protein. The Englishman Frederick Sanger was the first to establish the complete amino acid sequence in a protein, the hormone insulin. Moore and Stein followed by identifying the sequence of a more complex protein, the enzyme ribonuclease.

Bergman died of cancer in New York City on November 7, 1944. His mastery of peptide synthesis and protein splitting constituted the beginnings of modern protein chemistry. Bringing to the United States a background in German organic chemistry, he laid the foundations for the work of others, who would fulfill Bergmann’s goal of understanding and mapping the molecular structure of proteins and enzymes. His research colleagues found him a supportive leader and collaborator. He coauthored a number of publications with other members of his research group.

From the guide to the Max Bergmann papers, [ca. 1930]-1945, 1930-1945, (American Philosophical Society)

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  • Nuclear arms control
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  • Jewish scientists.
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