George Gamow

George Gamow
George Gamow

George Gamow was a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who played a central role in shaping the world of physics with his theories and discoveries. A bigger part of his youthful life was spent on scientific research. He would later devote his time to teaching and authoring numerous books in the middle and later life. Among his notable publications include The Birth and Death of the Sun and the Tompkins series titled Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland. Unlike most authors who often seek to amuse their readers by using tough vocabulary, Gamow sought understanding rather than amusement. His books present vital principles of science and mathematics. He was a proponent of Lemaître’s Big Bang theory and found ways to explain theories that had troubled humanity for a long time.

Personal life and education

For a man who deserves all manner of recognition that he got, George Gamow was born to well-doing parents. His father was a Russian high school language and literature teacher, while his mother taught geography and history in girls’ school.

Born as Georgiy Antonovich Gamov, on March 4, 1904, Gamow began learning at an early age. His mother taught him French. A personal tutor helped the author master basic German terms. He would later learn fluent English during his college years. He studied at the Institute of Physics and Mathematics in Odessa and learned physics at the University of Leningrad.

At the university, Gamow became close friends with three students in his theoretical physics class; Lev Landau, Matvey Bronshtein, and Dmitri Ivanenko. The four collectively referred to themselves as Three Musketeers and collaborated to publish significant papers in quantum mechanics. After graduating, Gamow focused his attention on quantum theory, which became the basis of his doctorate. He then moved to the University of Copenhagen, where he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory with Ernest Rutherford. By the time of his death on August 19, 1968, Gamow had made key contributions to the world of science.

Fundamental contributions

By 1928, Gamow had tackled the theory of alpha decay of a nucleus via tunneling. When he moved to the United States in 1934, he became a professor at George Washington University. During his time here, he made a series of contributions to beta decay. He also made significant contributions to nuclear physics, working on theories of nuclear fission and fusion. The author published several scientific papers while at the university in Washington DC before shifting his interest to cosmology and astrophysics.

His interest in cosmology was mainly because of a desire to understand energy generation. The author developed several equations explaining the production of elements heavier than lithium in thermonuclear reactions in stars. He tasked one of his graduate students, Ralph Alpher, to solve the equations numerically. This gave birth to the Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper. Gamow published 20 papers on cosmology before shifting interest to genetic code.

The double helix structure of the DNA was discovered in 1953. Gamow focused his attention on solving the problem of how four different bases in DNA impacted the synthesis of proteins from their amino acids. These bases are adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine. His proposals regarding the ordering of these bases led to the emergence of biological degeneracy.

Initially barred from defecting the Soviet Union after an invitation by Niels Bohr, Gamow eventually made it to the United States. Many of his discoveries were made there and continue to impact scientific works across the globe.


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