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Who is Melvin Calvin? - Melvin Calvin biography

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Who is Melvin Calvin? Information on chemist Melvin Calvin biography, life story, works, discoveries and contributions.

Melvin CalvinMelvin Calvin; (1911-1997), American chemist, who worked in research areas ranging from metal-organic chemistry to the chemical origin of life and made his greatest contribution in the study of photosynthesis in green plants. In 1961, Calvin was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry “for his investigations in the carbon dioxide assimilation of plants.”


Contributions to Science. Calvin’s early scientific interests in the theoretical aspects of organic structure and properties were reflected in his first book, The Theory of Organic Chemistry, co-authored with Gerald E. K. Branch in 1941. His studies of organic compounds that bind metal ions led to his writing, with Arthur E. Martell, The Chemistry of Metal Chelate Compounds (1952). His mastery of these subjects proved to be a keen tool for investigations of the chemistry of living cells.


In 1945, Calvin and his associates began to use the radioactive isotope carbon-14 as a tracer element for studying photosynthesis in green plants (the formation of food and oxygen from sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and minerals). They described radiocarbon tracer methods in the book Isotopic Carbon (1949).


By arranging for green plants to use radioactive carbon dioxide, and then identifying the minute amounts of radioactive compounds at the intermediate stages of photosynthesis, Calvin and his group were able, by 1957, to establish most of the reactions used by plants in making sugar and other substances. Calvin and an associate, James A. Bassham, reviewed the discovery of the path from carbon dioxide to the final product of photosynthesis in two books, The Path of (¡arbon in Photosynthesis (1957) and The Photosynthesis of Carbon Compounds (1962).


Calvin went on to suggest that plants may convert light energy to chemical energy by transferring electrons through an organized array of pigment molecules and other substances. He also formulated theories concerning the chemical evolution of life. He supported these theories with studies of the organic substances found in ancient rocks, and of organic compounds formed during the irradiation of gas mixtures under conditions that are thought to simulate the atmosphere of the earth as it existed billions of years ago.


Life. Calvin was bom in St. Paul, Minn., on April 8, 1911, the son of Russian immigrant parents. He received a B. S. degree from the Michigan College of Mining and Technology in 1931 and a Ph. D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1935. He became interested in biochemistry while working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manchester, England, during the years 1935-1937.


Beginning in 1937, Calvin taught chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. He formed the bio-organic chemistry group of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory there in 1946 and became director of the university’s Laboratory of Chemical Biodynamics in 1960.


Calvin was elected to several distinguished societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London, whose Davy Medal he received in 1964 in recognition of his pioneering work in chemistry and biology, particularly his photosynthesis studies.

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