The helix represents DNA. Gamow is wearing a GW robe. His startlingly blue eyes twinkled myopically behind lenses that resembled the bottoms of cider bottles. He conversed with a cosmopolitan circle of friends in a variety of European languages, with a fractured but poetic delivery that was animated and usually high-pitched. Gamow had already made quite a name for himself among physicists in Europe, but not many in the United States knew much about him in Few could have predicted that he would achieve worldwide renown as an astrophysicist and as the chief proponent of a bizarre theory of cosmic evolution called the "big bang," a schema that today is the subject of intense theoretical and observational research.
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The helix represents DNA. Gamow is wearing a GW robe. His startlingly blue eyes twinkled myopically behind lenses that resembled the bottoms of cider bottles. He conversed with a cosmopolitan circle of friends in a variety of European languages, with a fractured but poetic delivery that was animated and usually high-pitched.
Gamow had already made quite a name for himself among physicists in Europe, but not many in the United States knew much about him in Few could have predicted that he would achieve worldwide renown as an astrophysicist and as the chief proponent of a bizarre theory of cosmic evolution called the "big bang," a schema that today is the subject of intense theoretical and observational research. Over the next 22 years, the ebullient and charismatic Gamow-"Geo" to most of his colleagues-left an ineradicable impression, both at the University and throughout the nation.
Soon after his arrival in Washington, he instituted a series of conferences in theoretical physics and related areas. Conference topics ranged from nuclear physics to cosmology to biological genetics.
In addition to developing the big bang theory of the expanding universe, Gamow made enormous contributions to the understanding of the nucleus of the atom, the activity of stars, the creation of the elements, and the genetic code of life.
He also laid the foundation for the theory of thermonuclear reactions, and his formula describing the temperature dependence of fusion reactions has been a cornerstone of thermonuclear bomb and reactor work.
One of the observing scientists at the "Mike" H-bomb test on Bikini atoll in the Pacific in , he was described by the United Press International reporter covering the event as "the only scientist in America with a real sense of humor. He can always take the most technical information and make it simple.
Infinity , as having stimulated their youthful fascination with science. Gyorgy Antonovich Gamow was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in His love of science manifested itself early. Astronomy, for example, captivated him after his father gave him a small telescope for his 13th birthday.
In , he attended summer school in Goettingen, Germany, at that time the hotbed of the new quantum theory. There he succeeded in explaining nuclear radioactivity as a quantum-mechanical phenomenon.
That insight explained experimental findings of scientists at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, led by the titan of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford. Gamow went on to apply quantum mechanics to a general theory of low-energy nuclear reactions, essentially founding that field of study. The significance of his work was apparent to Niels Bohr, who was to theoretical physics what Rutherford was to experimental physics.
There Gamow invented what was to become known as the liquid-drop model of the nucleus. Later, Bohr and the American theorist John A. Wheeler used the model to explain the phenomenon of nuclear fission. The young Ukrainian had a straightforward, no-nonsense way of doing theoretical physics.
His approach was strongly intuitive and he lost little time on florid mathematical formalism. That outlook commended itself to the redoubtable Rutherford, who was, to put it mildly, skeptical of the value, if not of all theoretical speculation, certainly of many theoretical scientists. Thus Gamow played a major role in the theoretical aspects of the experiment in which Cockcroft and Walton split the lithium-7 nucleus into two alpha particles by bombarding it with high-energy protons.
That accomplishment won wide-spread attention when presented in a paper. Einstein said in The New York Times that the results provided the strongest evidence yet adduced for the equivalence of mass and energy.
Photo: John Cockcroft and George Gamow Cavendish Laboratory, In sum, Gamow had established himself as one of the leaders in the rapidly expanding field of nuclear physics before his 25th birthday. Many intellectuals fled Europe as communist and fascist oppression intensified during the s. Gamow, who became a professor at the University of Leningrad, was one of the first.
His posthumously published autobiography, My World Line, contains vivid accounts of some of his attempts to escape from the Soviet Union. In what he describes as the "Crimean campaign" of , he and his new wife-Lyubov Vokhminzeva, nicknamed Rho-tried to cross the Black Sea to Turkey. Gamow had put the distance at about miles. The voyage was to be made in a small kayak equipped only with paddles and provided with little more than eggs, chocolate, strawberries, and two bottles of good brandy.
On their return to Leningrad from a later and equally unsuccessful attempt to escape, Gamow and Rho were more than a little surprised to find that the government had appointed him to represent the Soviet Union at the upcoming Solvay theoretical physics conference to be held in Brussels in October George resolved to take advantage of this opportunity to leave the Soviet Union for good. Gamow advanced three conditions. First, he wanted to invite a colleague of his choice to join the GW faculty to work with him.
Third, he requested that his initial appointment at GW be described as visiting professor. Since his Soviet passport allowed him to remain legally outside the Soviet Union for only a year, he wanted to give the impression that he might not be contemplating defection. Five years later, Gamow became a naturalized U. After the war, he taught a course in nuclear physics to naval officers, with Admiral Chester Nimitz among his students.
The military-and private industry-frequently called on his expertise. Throughout his long GW career, Gamow pursued eclectic scientific interests. Abstract mathematics, the workings of turbine and internal combustion engines, astrophysics, the chemical and biological complexity of matter, the properties and structure of the interior of our planet, and the application of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics to natural phenomena immense and subatomic-all those excited his insatiable curiosity.
The mathematician Stanislaw Ulam. Not long after coming to GW, he shifted from purely nuclear physics to astrophysics and the application of his discoveries in nuclear physics to the problems of stellar birth, evolution, and energy generation-especially the internal structure of red giant stars. That, in turn, led him to the study of galaxy formation and the question of the creation of the elements and to evolutionary cosmology in general.
His findings laid much of the foundation for our present understanding of those phenomena. However, he is best remembered for his work on nucleocosmogenesis the process by which the elements are created out of more fundamental components and the development of the physical theory of the big bang model of the universe, as well as for his part in the prediction of the existence of cosmic background radiation.
Gamow, his former student at GW, Ralph Alpher, and their long-time colleague Robert Herman were the first to systematically develop the physical aspects of the cosmological theories of the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann and the Belgian cosmologist George Lemaitre.
In a paper published in the British journal Nature later in , Gamow 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. For its time, that proposed connection between microscopic quantities and cosmic behavior was audacious in the extreme.
Today such unbridled speculation has become, if not commonplace, at least not rare in the pages of highly respected scientific journals. Depending on how one views the license that such modem luminaries as Stephen Hawking allow themselves in their cosmological speculations wormholes, quantum foam, etc.
Gamow had often dealt with biological matters in his popular writings. In mid, having read the famous paper by Francis Crick and James Watson describing the double helical structure of DNA, Gamow sent Crick a letter, in which he outlined a mathematical code connecting the structure of DNA with the existence of 20 amino acids.
The latter are the building blocks of the proteins that form the most important constituent of all biological organisms. It was within the walls of those hallowed precincts that Crick showed Watson the Gamow letter. His great innovation was the introduction of mathematical reasoning to the coding problem without dwelling too much on biochemical details.
Soon the biological world roiled with feverish activity directed toward abstract mathematical attempts to unravel the genetic code. Gamow and Crick were in the van of the enterprise. In the end it was two experimental biologists, Marshall Nirenberg and J. No mathematical regularity of the kind Gamow contemplated has been discerned between the structure of the DNA and that of the amino acid sequence in proteins. Nevertheless, his astounding insight into the nature of the question to be posed played a significant part in stimulating the enormous advances that have occurred in biological genetics and in the understanding of the essentials of genetic coding since Those achievements are all the more remarkable for having being inspired, not by a trained biologist, but by a practicing physicist and cosmologist.
Gamow left GW in for the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he continued working until his death in But his impact on GW endures, and this spring we unveiled a campus memorial to him. A bronze plaque on a granite boulder details the scientific and literary accomplishments of the man whom his good friend Edward Teller described as follows: "Gamow was fantastic in his ideas.
He was right, he was wrong. More often wrong than right. Always interesting;
Shelves: physics , non-fiction-science This book is a classic popularization of science by one of the great popular science writers who was also a brilliant physicist. He did a lot of work in developing the big bang theory. This book combines two earlier books. The first is "Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland" which discusses the weird consequences of relativity on time, mass, and velocity through alternating scenes of a science lecture and the dreams of a bank clerk who dozes off during the lecture. The same structure is used in the second This book is a classic popularization of science by one of the great popular science writers who was also a brilliant physicist. The same structure is used in the second book, "Mr.
Getting a Bang out of Gamow
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 learned fluent English in 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 Institute of Physics and Mathematics in Odessa  —23 and at the University of Leningrad —
Jump to navigation Jump to search Mr Tompkins is the title character in a series of four popular science books by the physicist George Gamow. The books are structured as a series of dreams in which Mr Tompkins enters alternative worlds where the physical constants have radically different values from those they have in the real world. Gamow aims to use these alterations to explain modern scientific theories. The lecture proves less comprehensible than he had hoped and he drifts off to sleep and enters a dream world in which the speed of light is a mere 4. This becomes apparent to him through the fact that passing cyclists are subject to a noticeable Lorentz—FitzGerald contraction.
Mr Tompkins in Paperback