George Gamow

George Gamow

Overview
George Gamow (ˈɡaməf; August 19, 1968), born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov (Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

: Георгий Антонович Гамов), was a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n-born theoretical physicist
Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...

 and cosmologist. He discovered alpha decay
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

 via quantum tunneling and worked on radioactive decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 of the atomic nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

, star formation
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

, stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

, Big Bang nucleosynthesis
Big Bang nucleosynthesis
In physical cosmology, Big Bang nucleosynthesis refers to the production of nuclei other than those of H-1 during the early phases of the universe...

, cosmic microwave background, nucleocosmogenesis
Nucleocosmogenesis
Nucleocosmogenesis is a scientific term first coined and published by George Gamow, renowned biophysicist, in the 1920s. According to his definition, nucleocosmogenesis is the process by which chemical elements are created out of more fundamental components in the cosmos. The modern term for such...

 and genetics
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

.

Gamow was born in the city of Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

) to mixed Russian
Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

-Ukrainian
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 parents. His father taught Russian language and literature in high school, and his mother taught geography and history at a school for girls.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'George Gamow'
Start a new discussion about 'George Gamow'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

There was a young fellow from Trinity, Who took the square root of infinity. But the number of digits, Gave him the fidgets; He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

One, Two, Three... Infinity (1947)
Encyclopedia
George Gamow (ˈɡaməf; August 19, 1968), born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov (Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

: Георгий Антонович Гамов), was a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n-born theoretical physicist
Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...

 and cosmologist. He discovered alpha decay
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

 via quantum tunneling and worked on radioactive decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 of the atomic nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

, star formation
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

, stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

, Big Bang nucleosynthesis
Big Bang nucleosynthesis
In physical cosmology, Big Bang nucleosynthesis refers to the production of nuclei other than those of H-1 during the early phases of the universe...

, cosmic microwave background, nucleocosmogenesis
Nucleocosmogenesis
Nucleocosmogenesis is a scientific term first coined and published by George Gamow, renowned biophysicist, in the 1920s. According to his definition, nucleocosmogenesis is the process by which chemical elements are created out of more fundamental components in the cosmos. The modern term for such...

 and genetics
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

.

Early life and career


Gamow was born in the city of Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

) to mixed Russian
Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

-Ukrainian
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 parents. His father taught Russian language and literature in high school, and his mother taught geography and history at a school for girls. In addition to Russian, Gamow learned to speak some French from his mother, and German from a tutor. Gamow did not learn fluent English until his college years and later. Most of his early publications were in German or Russian, but he later switched to writing in English for both technical papers and for the lay audience.

He was educated at the Novorossiya
Novorossiya
Novorossiya is a historic area of lands which established itself solidly after the annexation of the Crimean Khanate by the Russian Empire, but was introduced with the establishment of Novorossiysk Governorate with the capital in Kremenchuk in the mid 18th century. Until that time in both Polish...

 University in Odessa
Odessa University
The I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University , located in Odessa, Ukraine, is one of the country's major universities. It was founded in 1865, by an edict of Czar Alexander II of Russia, reorganizing the Richelieu Lyceum of Odessa into the new Imperial Novorossiya University. In the Soviet...

 (1922–23) and at the University of Leningrad
Saint Petersburg State University
Saint Petersburg State University is a Russian federal state-owned higher education institution based in Saint Petersburg and one of the oldest and largest universities in Russia....

 (1923–1929). Gamow studied under Alexander Friedmann
Alexander Alexandrovich Friedman
Alexander Alexandrovich Friedman or Friedmann was a Russian and Soviet physicist and mathematician.- Life and work :...

 for some time in Leningrad
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

, until Friedmann died in 1925. At the University, Gamow made friends with three other students of theoretical physics, Lev Landau
Lev Landau
Lev Davidovich Landau was a prominent Soviet physicist who made fundamental contributions to many areas of theoretical physics...

, Dmitri Ivanenko
Dmitri Ivanenko
Dmitri Ivanenko , Professor of Moscow State University , made a great contribution to the physical science of the twentieth century, especially to nuclear physics, field theory , and gravitation theory.His outstanding achievements include:* the Fock-Ivanenko coefficients of parallel...

, and Matvey Bronshtein
Matvei Petrovich Bronstein
Matvei Petrovich Bronstein was a Soviet theoretical physicist, a pioneer of quantum gravity, author of works in astrophysics, semiconductors, quantum electrodynamics and cosmology, as well as of a number of books in popular science for children....

 (who was later arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938 by the Soviet regime). The four formed a group known as the Three Musketeers which met to discuss and analyze the ground-breaking papers on quantum mechanics published during those years.

On graduation, he worked on quantum theory
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

 in Göttingen
Göttingen
Göttingen is a university town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Göttingen. The Leine river runs through the town. In 2006 the population was 129,686.-General information:...

, where his research into the atomic nucleus provided the basis for his doctorate. He then worked at the Theoretical Physics Institute
Niels Bohr Institute
The Niels Bohr Institute is a research institute of the University of Copenhagen. The research of the institute spans astronomy, geophysics, nanotechnology, particle physics, quantum mechanics and biophysics....

 of the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...

, from 1928 to 1931, with a break to work with Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 at the Cavendish Laboratory
Cavendish Laboratory
The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching laboratory....

, Cambridge
Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

. He continued to study the atomic nucleus (proposing the "liquid drop" model), but also worked on stellar physics with Robert Atkinson
Robert d'Escourt Atkinson
Robert d'Escourt Atkinson was a British astronomer, physicist and inventor.-Biography:...

 and Fritz Houtermans
Fritz Houtermans
Friedrich Georg "Fritz" Houtermans was a Dutch-Austrian-German atomic and nuclear physicist born in Zoppot near Danzig, West Prussia...

.

In 1931 Gamow was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Russian Academy of Sciences
The Russian Academy of Sciences consists of the national academy of Russia and a network of scientific research institutes from across the Russian Federation as well as auxiliary scientific and social units like libraries, publishers and hospitals....

 at age 28 — one of the youngest in the history of this organization. During the period 1931-1933, George Gamow worked in the Physical Department of the Radium Institute (Leningrad
Leningrad
Leningrad is the former name of Saint Petersburg, Russia.Leningrad may also refer to:- Places :* Leningrad Oblast, a federal subject of Russia, around Saint Petersburg* Leningrad, Tajikistan, capital of Muminobod district in Khatlon Province...

) headed by Vitaly Khlopin. Under the guidance and direct participation of Igor Kurchatov
Igor Kurchatov
Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov , was a Soviet nuclear physicist who is widely known as the director of the Soviet atomic bomb project. Along with Georgy Flyorov and Andrei Sakharov, Kurchatov is widely remembered and dubbed as the "father of the Soviet atomic bomb" for his directorial role in the...

, Lev Mysovskii and George Gamow, Europe's first cyclotron
Cyclotron
In technology, a cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator. In physics, the cyclotron frequency or gyrofrequency is the frequency of a charged particle moving perpendicularly to the direction of a uniform magnetic field, i.e. a magnetic field of constant magnitude and direction...

 was designed. In 1932, George Gamow and Lev Mysovskii submitted a draft design for consideration by the Academic Council of the Radium Institute, which approved it. The cyclotron was not completed until 1937.

Radioactive decay


In the early 1900s, radioactive materials were known to have characteristic exponential decay rates or half lives. At the same time, radiation emissions were known to have certain characteristic energies. By 1928, Gamow had solved the theory of the alpha decay
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

 of a nucleus via tunnelling
Quantum tunnelling
Quantum tunnelling refers to the quantum mechanical phenomenon where a particle tunnels through a barrier that it classically could not surmount. This plays an essential role in several physical phenomena, such as the nuclear fusion that occurs in main sequence stars like the sun, and has important...

, with mathematical help from Nikolai Kochin
Nikolai Kochin
Nikolai Evgrafovoch Kochin was a Russian and Soviet mathematician specialising in applied mathematics, and especially fluid and gas mechanics.-Biography:...

. The problem was also solved independently by Ronald W Gurney
Ronald Wilfried Gurney
Ronald Wilfred Gurney was a British theoretical physicist and research pupil of William Lawrence Bragg at the Victoria University of Manchester during the 1920s and 30s, Bristol University during the 1930s and later in the USA where he died.-Radioactive decay processes:Whilst at the Palmer...

 and Edward U Condon
Edward Condon
Edward Uhler Condon was a distinguished American nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics, and a participant in the development of radar and nuclear weapons during World War II.-Early life and career:...

. Gurney and Condon did not, however, achieve the quantitative results achieved by Gamow.

Classically, the particle is confined to the nucleus because of the high energy requirement to escape the very strong nuclear potential well
Potential well
A potential well is the region surrounding a local minimum of potential energy. Energy captured in a potential well is unable to convert to another type of energy because it is captured in the local minimum of a potential well...

. Also classically, it takes an enormous amount of energy to pull apart the nucleus, an event that would not occur spontaneously. In quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, however, there is a probability the particle can "tunnel through" the wall of the potential well, and escape. Gamow solved a model potential for the nucleus and derived from first principles a relationship between the half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

 of the alpha-decay event process and the energy of the emission, which had been previously discovered empirically, and was known as the Geiger-Nuttall law
Geiger-Nuttall law
In nuclear physics, the Geiger–Nuttall law or Geiger–Nuttall rule relates the decay constant of a radioactive isotope with the energy of the alpha particles emitted...

. Some years later, the name Gamow factor
Gamow factor
The Gamow Factor or Gamow-Sommerfeld Factor, named after its discoverer George Gamow, is a probability factor for two nuclear particles' chance of overcoming the Coulomb barrier in order to undergo nuclear reactions, for example in nuclear fusion...

 or Gamow-Sommerfeld Factor was applied to the probability of incoming nuclear particles tunneling through the electrostatic Coulomb barrier
Coulomb barrier
The Coulomb barrier, named after Coulomb's law, which is named after physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb , is the energy barrier due to electrostatic interaction that two nuclei need to overcome so they can get close enough to undergo a nuclear reaction...

 and undergoing nuclear reactions.

Defection


Gamow worked at a number of Soviet establishments before deciding to flee Russia because of increased oppression. In 1931, he was officially denied permission to attend a scientific conference in Italy. Also in 1931, he married Lyubov Vokhminzeva (nicknamed "Rho"), another physicist in Russia. Gamow and his new wife spent much of the next 2 years trying to leave the Soviet Union, with or without official permission. Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 and other friends invited Gamow to visit during this period, but Gamow could not get permission to leave.

Gamow later claimed that his first two attempts to defect with his wife were in 1932, and involved trying to kayak
Kayak
A kayak is a small, relatively narrow, human-powered boat primarily designed to be manually propelled by means of a double blade paddle.The traditional kayak has a covered deck and one or more cockpits, each seating one paddler...

: first a planned 250-kilometer paddle over the Black Sea to Turkey, and another attempt from Murmansk
Murmansk
Murmansk is a city and the administrative center of Murmansk Oblast, Russia. It serves as a seaport and is located in the extreme northwest part of Russia, on the Kola Bay, from the Barents Sea on the northern shore of the Kola Peninsula, not far from Russia's borders with Norway and Finland...

 to Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

. Poor weather foiled both attempts, but they had not been noticed by the authorities.

In 1933, Gamow was suddenly granted permission for himself to attend the first Solvay Conference
Solvay Conference
The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, located in Brussels, were founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912, following the historic invitation-only 1911 Conseil Solvay, the turning point in world physics...

 for nuclear physicists in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

. He insisted on having his wife accompany him, even saying that he would not go alone. Eventually, the Soviet authorities relented, and issued passports for the couple. The two attended, and arranged to extend their stay, with the help of Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

 and other physicists. Over the next year, Gamow obtained temporary work at the Curie Institute
Curie Institute
* the Curie Institute in Paris, a research foundation.* the Curie Institute in Warsaw, a cancer research and treatment center...

, University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

, and University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

.

Move to America


In 1934, Gamow and his wife moved to the United States. He became a professor at George Washington University
George Washington University
The George Washington University is a private, coeducational comprehensive university located in Washington, D.C. in the United States...

 (GWU) in 1934, and recruited physicist Edward Teller
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

 from London to join him at GWU. In 1936, Gamow and Teller published what became known as the "Gamow-Teller selection rule" for beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

. During his time in Washington, Gamow would also publish major scientific papers with Mario Schenberg
Mário Schenberg
Mário Schenberg, , var. Mário Schönberg, Mario Schonberg, Mário Schoenberg), was a Jewish Brazilian electrical engineer, physicist, art critic and writer.-The Urca process:...

 and Ralph Alpher. By the late 1930s, Gamow's interests had turned towards astrophysics
Astrophysics
Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe, including the physical properties of celestial objects, as well as their interactions and behavior...

 and cosmology
Cosmology
Cosmology is the discipline that deals with the nature of the Universe as a whole. Cosmologists seek to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order...

.

In 1935, Gamow's son, Igor Gamow
Igor Gamow
Rustem Igor Gamow , son of physicist George Gamow, is a microbiology professor and inventor. His best known inventions include the Gamow bag and the Shallow Underwater Breathing Apparatus.- Youth :...

 was born. George Gamow became a naturalized American in 1940. He would retain his formal association with GWU until 1956.

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Gamow did not work directly on the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

 producing the atomic bomb, in spite of his knowledge of radioactivity and nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

. He continued to teach physics at GWU, and consulted for the Navy.

Gamow was interested in the processes of stellar evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

 and the early history of the solar system
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

. In 1945, he co-authored a paper supporting work by German theoretical physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker was a German physicist and philosopher. He was the longest-living member of the research team which performed nuclear research in Germany during the Second World War, under Werner Heisenberg's leadership...

 on planetary formation in the early solar system. Gamow published another paper in the British journal Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

in 1948, in which he developed equations for the mass and radius of a primordial galaxy (which typically contains about one hundred billion stars, each with a mass comparable with that of the sun).

Big Bang nucleosynthesis


Gamow produced an important cosmogony
Cosmogony
Cosmogony, or cosmogeny, is any scientific theory concerning the coming into existence or origin of the universe, or about how reality came to be. The word comes from the Greek κοσμογονία , from κόσμος "cosmos, the world", and the root of γίνομαι / γέγονα "to be born, come about"...

 paper with his student Ralph Alpher, which was published as "The Origin of Chemical Elements" (Physical Review
Physical Review
Physical Review is an American scientific journal founded in 1893 by Edward Nichols. It publishes original research and scientific and literature reviews on all aspects of physics. It is published by the American Physical Society. The journal is in its third series, and is split in several...

, April 1, 1948). This paper became known as the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow theory
Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper
In physical cosmology, the Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper, or αβγ paper, was created by Ralph Alpher, then a physics PhD student, and his advisor George Gamow. The work, which would become the subject of Alpher's PhD dissertation, argued that the Big Bang would create hydrogen, helium and heavier...

. Gamow had the name of Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

 listed on the article as "H. Bethe, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York" to make a pun
Pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

 on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, alpha, beta and gamma. Bethe was also known for his sense of humor, but had no other role in the α-β-γ paper, and his name had been added without his knowledge. Gamow's lifetime interest in playing pranks, pun
Pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

ning, and doggerel
Doggerel
Doggerel is a derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness, or unpalatability in the 1630s.-Variants:...

 verse come across in some of his popular writings, notably his Mr. Tompkins...
Mr Tompkins
The eponymous character of Mr Tompkins appears in a series of four books by the physicist George Gamow in which he aims to explain modern scientific theories to a popular audience....

series of books (1939–1967).

The influential Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper outlined how the present levels of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 in the universe could be largely explained by reactions that occurred during the "Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

". This lent theoretical support to the Big Bang theory, although it did not explain the presence of elements heavier than helium (this was later explained by Fred Hoyle
Fred Hoyle
Sir Fred Hoyle FRS was an English astronomer and mathematician noted primarily for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term originally...

).

In the paper, no estimate of the strength of the present day residual cosmic microwave background radiation
Cosmic microwave background radiation
In cosmology, cosmic microwave background radiation is thermal radiation filling the observable universe almost uniformly....

 (CMB) was made. But shortly thereafter, Alpher and Robert Herman
Robert Herman
Robert Herman was a United States scientist, best known for his work with Ralph Alpher in 1948-50, on estimating the temperature of cosmic microwave background radiation from the Big Bang explosion....

 predicted that the afterglow of the big bang would have cooled down after billions of years, filling the universe with a radiation 5 degrees above absolute zero
Absolute zero
Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature at which entropy reaches its minimum value. The laws of thermodynamics state that absolute zero cannot be reached using only thermodynamic means....

.

Astronomers and scientists did not make any effort to detect this background radiation at that time, due to both a lack of interest and the immaturity of microwave observation. Consequently, Alpher and Herman's prediction in support of the big bang was not substantiated until 1964, when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson
Robert Woodrow Wilson
For the American President, see Woodrow Wilson.Robert Woodrow Wilson is an American astronomer, 1978 Nobel laureate in physics, who with Arno Allan Penzias discovered in 1964 the cosmic microwave background radiation...

 made the accidental discovery
Discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation
This article concerns the accidental discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. Although predicted by earlier theories, it was first found accidentally by Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson as they experimented with the Holmdel Horn Antenna....

, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 in Physics in 1978. Their work determined that the universe's background radiation was 2.7 degrees above absolute zero, just 2.3 degrees lower than the 1948 prediction.

DNA and RNA


After the discovery of the structure of DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 in 1953 by Francis Crick
Francis Crick
Francis Harry Compton Crick OM FRS was an English molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, and most noted for being one of two co-discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, together with James D. Watson...

 and James D. Watson
James D. Watson
James Dewey Watson is an American molecular biologist, geneticist, and zoologist, best known as one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953 with Francis Crick...

, Gamow attempted to solve the problem of how the order of the four different kinds of bases (adenine
Adenine
Adenine is a nucleobase with a variety of roles in biochemistry including cellular respiration, in the form of both the energy-rich adenosine triphosphate and the cofactors nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide , and protein synthesis, as a chemical component of DNA...

, cytosine
Cytosine
Cytosine is one of the four main bases found in DNA and RNA, along with adenine, guanine, and thymine . It is a pyrimidine derivative, with a heterocyclic aromatic ring and two substituents attached . The nucleoside of cytosine is cytidine...

, thymine
Thymine
Thymine is one of the four nucleobases in the nucleic acid of DNA that are represented by the letters G–C–A–T. The others are adenine, guanine, and cytosine. Thymine is also known as 5-methyluracil, a pyrimidine nucleobase. As the name suggests, thymine may be derived by methylation of uracil at...

 and guanine
Guanine
Guanine is one of the four main nucleobases found in the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, the others being adenine, cytosine, and thymine . In DNA, guanine is paired with cytosine. With the formula C5H5N5O, guanine is a derivative of purine, consisting of a fused pyrimidine-imidazole ring system with...

) in DNA chains could control the synthesis of proteins from amino acids. Crick has said that Gamow's suggestions helped him in his own thinking about the problem. As related by Crick, Gamow suggested that the twenty combinations of four DNA bases taken three at a time correspond to twenty amino acids used to form proteins. This led Crick and Watson to enumerate the twenty amino acids which are common to most proteins.

However the specific system proposed by Gamow (known as "Gamow's diamonds") was incorrect, as the triplets were supposed to be overlapping (so that in the sequence GGAC (for example), GGA could produce one amino acid and GAC another) and non-degenerate (meaning that each amino acid would correspond to one combination of three bases - in any order). Later protein sequencing work proved that this could not be the case; the true genetic code
Genetic code
The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material is translated into proteins by living cells....

 is non-overlapping and degenerate, and changing the order of a combination of bases does change the amino acid.

After 1954 Gamow was involved in the RNA Tie Club
RNA Tie Club
The idea of American biologist James D. Watson and Russian-American physicist George Gamow, the RNA Tie Club was a scientific gentleman's club of select members who shared their ideas on how to 'read' the message inside DNA and understand how it relates to proteins...

, a discussion group of leading scientists concerned with the problem of the genetic code. One of Gamow's colleagues in the Club was Nobel prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 winner James D. Watson
James D. Watson
James Dewey Watson is an American molecular biologist, geneticist, and zoologist, best known as one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953 with Francis Crick...

, co-discoverer of DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

, who acknowledges Gamow in his own autobiographical writings.

Late career


Gamow worked at George Washington University from 1934 until 1954, when he became a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

. In 1956, he moved to the University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

, where he remained for the rest of his career. Also in 1956, he divorced his first wife. Gamow later married Barbara Perkins (an editor for one of his publishers) in 1958.

In 1959, Gamow, Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

, and Victor Weisskopf publicly supported the re-entry of Frank Oppenheimer
Frank Oppenheimer
Frank Friedman Oppenheimer was an American physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, was a target of McCarthyism, and was later the founder of the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He was the younger brother of J...

 into teaching college physics at the University of Colorado
University of Colorado
The University of Colorado system is a system of public universities in Colorado consisting of three universities in four campuses: University of Colorado Boulder, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and University of Colorado Denver in downtown Denver and at the Anschutz Medical Campus in...

, as the Red Scare
Red Scare
Durrell Blackwell Durrell Blackwell The term Red Scare denotes two distinct periods of strong Anti-Communism in the United States: the First Red Scare, from 1919 to 1920, and the Second Red Scare, from 1947 to 1957. The First Red Scare was about worker revolution and...

 began to fade. While teaching there, Oppenheimer became increasingly interested in teaching science through simple hands-on experiments, eventually moving on to found the Exploratorium
Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco with over 475 participatory exhibits, all of them made onsite, that mix science and art. It also aims to promote museums as informal education centers....

 in San Francisco.

Gamow continued his teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and focused increasingly on writing textbooks and books on science for the general public. On August 19, 1968, Gamow died unexpectedly at age 64 in Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado
Boulder is the county seat and most populous city of Boulder County and the 11th most populous city in the U.S. state of Colorado. Boulder is located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of...

, and was buried there in Green Mountain Cemetery. The physics department tower at the University of Colorado at Boulder is named after him.


Writings


Gamow was a highly successful science writer, with several of his books still in print a half-century after their initial appearance. As an educator, Gamow recognized and emphasized fundamental principles that were unlikely to become obsolete, even as the pace of science and technology accelerated. He also conveyed a sense of excitement with the revolution in physics and other scientific topics of interest to the common reader. Gamow himself prepared the illustrations for his books, which added a new dimension to and complemented what Gamow intended to convey in the text. Wherever it was essential, he was unafraid to introduce mathematics, but he tried to avoid scaring off potential readers with too many equations that did not illustrate essential points.

In 1956, he was awarded the Kalinga Prize
Kalinga Prize
The Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science is an award given by UNESCO for exceptional skill in presenting scientific ideas to lay people...

 by UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 for his work in popularizing science with his Mr. Tompkins...
Mr Tompkins
The eponymous character of Mr Tompkins appears in a series of four books by the physicist George Gamow in which he aims to explain modern scientific theories to a popular audience....

series of books (1939–1967), his book One, Two, Three...Infinity
One Two Three ... Infinity
One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science is a 1947 non-fiction science book by George Gamow, is a book about some fundamental concepts in mathematics and science, but written at a level understandable by middle school students up through "intelligent layman" adults. The book...

, and other works.

Gamow was working on a textbook entitled Basic Theories in Modern Physics, with Richard Blade, but it was not completed before he died. He also had worked on a book entitled My World Line: An Informal Autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1970.

Popular

  • The Birth and Death of the Sun (1940, revised 1952)
  • The Biography of the Earth (1941)
  • One, Two, Three...Infinity
    One Two Three ... Infinity
    One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science is a 1947 non-fiction science book by George Gamow, is a book about some fundamental concepts in mathematics and science, but written at a level understandable by middle school students up through "intelligent layman" adults. The book...

    (1947, revised 1961), Viking Press (copyright renewed by Barbara Gamow, 1974), Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-25664-2, illustrated by the author. Dedicated to his son, Igor Gamow
    Igor Gamow
    Rustem Igor Gamow , son of physicist George Gamow, is a microbiology professor and inventor. His best known inventions include the Gamow bag and the Shallow Underwater Breathing Apparatus.- Youth :...

    , it remains one of the most well received ever in the popular science genre. The book winds from mathematics
    Mathematics
    Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

     to biology
    Biology
    Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

    , to physics
    Physics
    Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

    , crystallography
    Crystallography
    Crystallography is the experimental science of the arrangement of atoms in solids. The word "crystallography" derives from the Greek words crystallon = cold drop / frozen drop, with its meaning extending to all solids with some degree of transparency, and grapho = write.Before the development of...

    , and more.
  • The Moon (1953)
  • Biography of Physics (1961)
  • Gravity (1962) Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-42563-0. Profiles of Galileo
    Galileo Galilei
    Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

    , Newton
    Isaac Newton
    Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

    , and Einstein
    Albert Einstein
    Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

  • A Planet Called Earth (1963)
  • A Star Called the Sun (1964)
  • Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory, 1966, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-24895-X.
  • My World Line: An Informal Autobiography (1970) Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-50376-2

Mr. Tompkins series


Throughout these books, Mr. Tompkins is introduced as "C. G. H. Tompkins" to emphasize the notion of cGħ physics
CGh physics
cGh physics refers to the mainstream attempts in physics to unify relativity, quantum mechanics, and gravitation, in particular following the ideas of Matvei Petrovich Bronstein and George Gamow...

.
  • Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland (1940) Originally published in serial form in Discovery magazine (UK) in 1938.
  • Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom (1945)
  • Mr. Tompkins Learns the Facts of Life (1953), about biology
  • Mr. Tompkins in Paperback (1965), combines Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland with Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom, Cambridge University Press, 1993 Canto edition with foreword by Roger Penrose
    Roger Penrose
    Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS is an English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College...

  • Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself (1967), A rewritten version of Mr. Tompkins Learns the Facts of Life giving a broader view of biology, including recent developments in molecular biology. Coauthored by M. Ycas.

Science textbooks

  • The Constitution of Atomic Nuclei and Radioactivity (1931)
  • Structure of Atomic Nuclei and Nuclear Transformations (1937)
  • Atomic Energy in Cosmic and Human Life (1947)
  • Theory of Atomic Nucleus and Nuclear Energy Sources (1949) coauthor C. L. Critchfield
  • The Creation of the Universe (1952)
  • Matter, Earth and Sky (1958)
  • Physics: Foundations & Frontiers (1960) coauthor John M. Cleveland
  • The Atom and its Nucleus (1961)
  • Mr. Tompkins Gets Serious: The Essential George Gamow (2005). edited by Robert Oerter, Pi Press, ISBN 0-13-187291-5. Incorporates material from Matter, Earth, and Sky and The Atom and Its Nucleus. Notwithstanding the title, this book is not part of the Mr. Tompkins series.

External links