One is the textbook, intended for teaching the reader the facts and theories of physics. Books of this kind usually omit all historical aspects of the development of science; the only information concerning great scientists of the past and present is limited to the year of birth and death or given in brackets after the name. The other type is essentially historical, devoted to biographical data and to other character analysis of the great men of science, and simply listing their discoveries under the assumption that the reader, studying the history of a given science, is familiar with that science himself. The discussion in each of the eight chapters is centered around a single great figure, or at most two, with other physicists of that era and their contributions forming more of the background. This accounts for the omission of many names which would be found in most books on the history of physics, and for the omission of many topics that are a "must" in the regular physics textbooks. The aim of this book is to give the reader the feeling of what physics is, and what kinds of people physicists are, thus getting him interested enough to pursue his studies by seeking out more systematically written books on the subject.

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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 [1] —23 and at the University of Leningrad — He aspired to do his doctoral thesis under Friedmann, but had to change dissertation advisors. 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.

He later used the same phrase to describe the Alpher, Herman, and Gamow group. He then worked at the Theoretical Physics Institute of the University of Copenhagen from to , with a break to work with Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory in 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.

In , Gamow was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR at age 28 — one of the youngest in the history of this organization. In , Gamow and Mysovskii submitted a draft design for consideration by the Academic Council of the Radium Institute, which approved it.

The cyclotron was not completed until Bragg sitting, center : physicist A. Lebedev leftmost , G. Gamow rightmost Radioactive decay[ edit ] In the early 20th century, 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. Gurney and Edward U. Classically, the particle is confined to the nucleus because of the high energy requirement to escape the very strong nuclear 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 , 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 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.

Defection[ edit ] Gamow worked at a number of Soviet establishments before deciding to flee the Soviet Union because of increased oppression.

In , he was officially denied permission to attend a scientific conference in Italy. Gamow and his new wife spent much of the next two years trying to leave the Soviet Union, with or without official permission. Niels Bohr and other friends invited Gamow to visit during this period, but Gamow could not get permission to leave. Gamow later said that his first two attempts to defect with his wife were in and involved trying to kayak : first a planned kilometer paddle over the Black Sea to Turkey , and another attempt from Murmansk to Norway.

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

In , Gamow and Teller published what became known as the " Gamow—Teller selection rule " for beta decay. George Gamow became a naturalized American in He retained his formal association with GWU until During World War II, Gamow did not work directly on the Manhattan Project producing the atomic bomb , in spite of his knowledge of radioactivity and nuclear fusion.

Gamow was interested in the processes of stellar evolution and the early history of the Solar System. Gamow did this by assuming that the early universe was dominated by radiation rather than by matter.

At first, Gamow believed that all the elements might be produced in the very high temperature and density early stage of the universe. Later, he revised this opinion on the strength of compelling evidence advanced by Fred Hoyle and others, that elements heavier than lithium are largely produced in thermonuclear reactions in stars and in supernovae. Gamow formulated a set of coupled differential equations describing his proposed process and assigned, as a PhD dissertation topic, his graduate student Ralph Alpher the task of solving the equations numerically.

The earliest was in with Edward Teller on galaxy formation, [21] followed in by the first description of cosmic nucleosynthesis. He also wrote many popular articles as well as academic textbooks on this and other subjects. By means of a simplification and using the observed ratio of hydrogen to heavier elements, he was able to obtain the density of matter at the onset of nucleosynthesis and from this the mass and diameter of the early galaxies.

In , he published reminiscences and recapitulation of his own work as well as the work of Alpher and Robert Herman both with Gamow and also independently of him. Gamow attempted to solve the problem of how the ordering of four different bases adenine , cytosine , thymine and guanine in DNA chains might control the synthesis of proteins from their constituent amino acids. Gamow proposed that these 20 combinations might code for the twenty amino acids which, he suggested, might well be the sole constituents of all proteins.

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 also 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 is non-overlapping and degenerate, and changing the order of a combination of bases does change the amino acid. This was a discussion group of leading scientists concerned with the problem of the genetic code, which counted among its members the physicists Edward Teller and Richard Feynman.

However, this did not prevent him from describing this colorful personality as a "zany", card-trick playing, limerick-singing, booze-swilling, practical—joking "giant imp".

In , he moved to the University of Colorado Boulder , where he remained for the rest of his career. Also in , he divorced his first wife. Gamow later married Barbara Perkins an editor for one of his publishers in Robert Oppenheimer was the older brother of Frank Oppenheimer, and both of them had worked on the Manhattan Project before their careers in physics were derailed by McCarthyism. Gamow continued his teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder and focused increasingly on writing textbooks and books on science for the general public.

After several months of ill health, surgeries on his circulatory system, diabetes and liver problems, Gamow was dying from liver failure , which he had called the "weak link" that could not withstand the other stresses.

In a letter written to Ralph Alpher on August 18, he had written, "The pain in the abdomen is unbearable and does not stop". Prior to this, there had been a long exchange of letters with his former student, in which he was seeking a fresh understanding of some concepts used in his earlier work, with Paul Dirac. Gamow relied on Alpher for deeper understanding of mathematics.

The physics department tower at the University of Colorado at Boulder is named after him. Personal life[ edit ] Gamow had a son, Igor Gamow , with his first wife Rho. The son later became a professor of microbiology at the University of Colorado , as well as an inventor.

Gamow was a well-known prankster, who delighted in practical jokes and humorous twists embedded in serious scientific publications.

However, Gamow could not resist adding his colleague Hans Bethe to the list of authors, as a pun on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet. 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 sketched the many illustrations for his books, which added a new dimension to and complemented what he intended to convey in the text.

He was unafraid to introduce mathematics wherever it was essential, but he tried to avoid deterring potential readers by including large numbers of equations that did not illustrate essential points.

Infinity , and other works. Before his death, Gamow was working with Richard Blade on a textbook Basic Theories in Modern Physics, but the work was never completed or published under that title. The materials include correspondence, articles, manuscripts and printed materials both by and about George Gamow.


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