Harold Urey


Harold Urey was born on April 29, 1893 in Walkerton, Indiana to reverend Samuel Clayton Urey and Cora Rebecca Reinoehl. After high school he taught at rural schools from 1911 to 1914. He earned a PHD in chemistry at University of California at Berkley. Urey was inspired by the physicist Raymond T. Birge and joined Niels Bohr in Copenhagen to work on atomic structure at the Institute for Theoretical Physics. On his return to the U.S. and between 1924 and 1928, he taught at The Johns Hopkins University as 'Associate in Chemistry', and then at Columbia where he assembled a team of associates that included Rudolph Schoenheimer, David Rittenberg and T.I Taylor.

Nobel Peace Prize:
Urey became interested in nuclear systematic. This led to his discovery of deuterium. Around this time, Urey isolated deuterium by repeatedly distilling a sample of liquid hydrogen. In 1931, he and his associates went on to demonstrate the existence of heavy water. Urey was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for his discovery of the heavy form of hydrogen known as deuterium.

Atomic Bomb:

During World War II, Urey's team at Columbia worked many research programs that contributed towards the Manhattan Project to make an atomic bomb for the United States. In autumn 1941, Urey led a diplomatic mission to England to establish co-operation on development of the atomic bomb. Urey served on many diffrent committees for the Manhattan Project and directed efforts to separate the isotopes with several techniques, including gaseous diffusion. This was a huge and complex operation, beset by numerous problems in the development of a suitable diffusion barrier for the uranium hexafluoride. Although he remained nominal head of the project, he tried to convince U.S. President Harry S. Truman not to drop the bomb on Japan. As director of the Atomic Bomb Project at Columbia University, Urey directed the production of isotopes of boron, hydrogen, and uranium. From uranium-238 he separated the rare isotope uranium-235, essential to the development of the atom bomb. After the war, hydrogen-2 (the deuterium Urey had discovered) was used to make the even more destructive H-bomb.