George Gamow

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George Gamow (pronounced "GAM-off") (March 4, 1904August 19, 1968) , born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov (Георгий Антонович Гамов) was a Ukrainian born physicist and cosmologist. He worked on subjects including the atomic nucleus, star formation, stellar nucleosynthesis, nucleocosmogenesis, and genetics.

Life and career

Gamow was born in Odessa, in the Russian Empire, now in Ukraine. He was educated at the Novorossiya University in Odessa (1922–23) and at the University of Leningrad (1923–1929). Gamow studied under Alexander Friedmann for some time in Leningrad, though Friedmann died in 1925. On graduation he studied quantum theory in Göttingen, where his research into the atomic nucleus provided the basis for his doctorate. He then worked at the Theoretical Physics Institute of the University of Copenhagen, from 1928 to 1931 with a break to work with Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, he continued to study the atomic nucleus (proposing the "liquid drop" model) but also worked on stellar physics with Robert Atkinson and Fritz Houtermans.

Gamow then worked at a number of establishments before fleeing the increased oppression in Russia and moved to the United States in 1934, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1940. He began working at George Washington University in 1934, where he published with Edward Teller, Mario Schoenberg, and Ralph Alpher.

The cosmogenesis paper with Alpher was published as the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow theory, Gamow had added the name of Hans Bethe to make a pun on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha beta gamma. Gamow was a strong advocate of the Big Bang theory.

After the discovery of the structure of DNA, Gamow realized that the sequence of nucleotides formed a code. He corresponded with researchers in the field about this concept.

He remained in Washington until 1954, then worked at University of California, Berkeley (1954), and University of Colorado at Boulder (1956–1968). In 1956 he was awarded the Kalinga prize by UNESCO for his work in popularizing science with his Mr. Tompkins... series of books (1939–1967), One Two Three ... Infinity, and other works.


  • Gamow was an imposing figure at six feet, three inches (190.5 cm) and over 225 pounds (102 kg) but possessed an impish sense of humor.
  • He was highly regarded in the Soviet Union, and was awarded the rank of General in the Army, a fact which raised eyebrows in the paperwork for his U.S. security clearances during the Cold War.


  • Mr. Tompkins in Paperback, 1965, Cambridge University Press, 1993 Canto edition with foreward by Roger Penrose, ISBN 0-521-44771-2. Originally published in two books as Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland in 1940 and Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom in 1945, following serial publication in Discovery magazine (UK) in 1938. Creatively illustrated by the author, and complete with a scored musical composition ("The Cosmic Opera"), the book explains the principles of relativity and quantum theory in a fashion that is entertaining to young people and adults.
  • One, Two, Three...Infinity, 1947, Viking Press (copyright renewed by Barbara Gamow, 1974), Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-25664-2, illustrated by the author. Dedicated to his son, Igor ("who wanted to be a cowboy") The book winds from mathematics to biology, through physics, crystallography, and more.
  • Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory, 1966, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-24895-X. Illustrated by the author and with period photographs, Gamow describes an insider's view of the development of quantum theory. Having worked with Niels Bohr and Ernest Rutherford, he not only can expound the theory, he supplies candid photos of Edward Teller on skis, Bohr on a motorcycle, Werner Heisenberg having a swim, and Enrico Fermi playing tennis. The finale is a dramatic playscript (also illustrated) of the history of atomic physics with the scientists cast in roles after the model of Goethe's Faust.

See also

External links

ca:George Gamow de:George Gamow es:George Gamow fr:George Gamow io:George Gamow it:George Gamow ja:ジョージ・ガモフ pl:George Gamow pt:George Gamov ru:Гамов, Георгий Антонович