A Symposium on the Nature of Science


Clifford N. Mathews
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Clifford Matthews' controversial model of an HCN world existing on the primitive Earth proposes that protein ancestors—heteropolypeptides—were formed directly from hydrogen cyanide polymers and water rather than by polymerization of individual amino acid monomers. These HCN polymers could also have served as dehydrating agents leading to the simultaneous synthesis of polypeptides and polynucleotides, precursors of today's proteins and nucleic acids. He describes the implications of this hypothesis for observations of organic matter on comets, meteorites, asteroids and the outer planets and for speculation on the origin of life on Earth and elsewhere.

Clifford N. Matthews
Department of Chemistry
University of Illinos at Chicago

Clifford Matthews was born in Hong Kong in 1921 and received his early education there. College years at Hong Kong University were interrupted by the outbreak of war and his subsequent experience as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and Japan. After the war he completed his undergraduate studies in England at the University of London (B.Sc. 1950) and then moved to the United States for graduate work in chemistry at Yale University (Ph.D. 1955). Following several years in industry, mostly at Monsanto carrying out fundamental chemical research, he became a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1969, becoming emeritus in 1992. Here, his continuing research on cosmochemistry and the origin of life led him to use the unifying theme of universal evolution in all his teaching efforts. In Chicago Professor Matthews regularly offered a minicourse—"Milky Way to DNA"—at the Adler Planetarium, and in 1993 he organized a symposium on Cosmic Beginnings and Human Ends for the Parliament of the World's Religions. At the next Parliament held in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, he organized another symposium on the developing dialogue between science and religion entitled At Home in the Universe. In all these activities on and off campus, his major aim has been to add breadth and perspective to the specialized programs demanded of undergraduate and graduate science majors and to convey to students of the humanities and professional schools and to the general public, something of the excitement and significance of science as the shaping cultural activity of our time.

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Last Update: August 11, 2000