What Was The Miller‑Urey Experiment?

If the origin of life happened before scientists were around to observe it, how can our origin be studied with the scientific method? This question is answered in our overview of the Miller-Urey experiment.


This animation was sponsored by the Center for Chemical Evolution, NSF, and NASA:

The Miller-Urey experiment was the first attempt to scientifically explore ideas about the origin of life. Stanley Miller simulated conditions thought be common on the ancient Earth. The purpose was to test the idea that the complex molecules of life (in this case, amino acids) could have arisen on our young planet through simple, natural chemical reactions.

The experiment was a success in that amino acids, the building blocks of life, were produced during the simulation. The finding was so significant that it kick-started an entirely new field of study: Prebiotic Chemistry.

Scientists now have reason to believe that the gases used in the Miller-Urey simulation were not actually the same as those of the ancient atmosphere. Because of this, many experiments have since been done, testing a wide variety of atmospheres and different environmental conditions. The results are overwhelming: the molecules of life can form under a wide variety of ancient Earth-like conditions.

Many questions about the origin of life remain to be answered but these findings give strong support to the idea that the first living cells on Earth may have emerged from natural chemical reactions.


For Teachers

The content of this video meets criteria in the following Disciplinary Core Ideas defined by Next Generation Science Standards. Use our videos to supplement classroom curriculum.


Our videos benefit from guidance and advice provided by experts in science and education. This animation is the result of collaboration between the following scientists, educators, and our team of creatives.

  • Jon Perry
  • Jeremiah Deasey
  • Anthony Danzl
  • Rosemary Mosco
  • Jordan Collver
  • Tyler Proctor
  • Zaid Ghasib
  • Jason Moon
  • Christopher Parsons, MSc
  • David O. Conover, PhD
  • Eric T. Parker, PhD
  • Nicholas V. Hud, PhD
  • Tom Cochran


The Miller-Urey Experiment:

Biomolecules found in meteorites:

Biomolecules form in asteroid simulations:

​Biomolecules form in Volcanic Simulations:

Biomolecules (amino acids) form in non-reducing atmosphere simulations: