George Gamow

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I decided to get Ph.D. in experimental physics because experimental physicists have their own room in the Institute where they can hang their coat, whereas theoretical physicists have to hang their coat at the entrance.

George Gamow [pronounced "GAM-off"] (March 4 1904August 19 1968) was a Ukrainian born physicist and cosmologist. He developed the Big Bang theory of cosmology, using it to predict the existence of Cosmic background radiation, and his insight that DNA nucleotides probably formed a "a triplet code of four symbols" was influential on very important research and discoveries in genetics.

Quotes[edit]

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.
People could not take him seriously when he and his colleagues proposed that there should be a cosmic background radiation, which we now know to be one of the greatest discoveries of 20th-century physics. ~ Michio Kaku
  • It was a bank holiday, and Mr Tompkins, the little clerk of a big city bank, slept late and had a leisurely breakfast. Trying to plan his day, he first thought about going to some afternoon movie and, opening the morning paper, turned to the entertainment page. But none of the films looked attractive to him. He detested all this Hollywood stuff, with infinite romances between popular stars.
    If only there were at least one film with some real adventure, something unusual and maybe even fantastic about it. But there was none. Unexpectedly, his eye fell on a little notice in the corner of the page. The local university was announcing a series of lectures on the problems of modern physics, and this afternoon's lecture was to be about Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Well, that might be something!
    • Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland. (1939) First lines
  • 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)
  • It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it. Pauli was such a good theoretical physicist that something usually broke in the lab whenever he merely stepped across the threshold. A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli's presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck's laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck's laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station. You may believe this anecdote or not, but there are many other observations concerning the reality of the Pauli Effect!
    • Thirty Years That Shook Physics : The Story of Quantum Theory (1966), p. 64
  • I decided to get Ph.D. in experimental physics because experimental physicists have their own room in the Institute where they can hang their coat, whereas theoretical physicists have to hang their coat at the entrance.
  • I feel that matter has properties which physics tells you.
    • "Interview with George Gamow", by Charles Weiner at Professor Gamow's home in Boulder, Colorado (25 April 1968)
  • So I am just sitting and waiting, listening, and if something exciting comes, I just jump in.
    • About the origin of his interest in biology in an "Interview with George Gamow", by Charles Weiner at Professor Gamow's home in Boulder, Colorado (25 April 1968)

The Creation of the Universe (1952)[edit]

  • If the expansion of the space of the universe is uniform in all directions, an observer located in anyone of the galaxies will see all other galaxies running away from him at velocities proportional to their distances from the observer.
    • p. 31
  • It took less than an hour to make the atoms, a few hundred million years to make the stars and planets, but five billion years to make man!
    • p. 139

Quotes about Gamow[edit]

If contribution in life is measured by the influence of a person's best ideas, then George Gamow's contribution has been immense. ~ William C. Parke
  • The physicist George Gamow was also an entertaining popularizer. He once told the story of how with his wife and their baby daughter he visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa. As they climbed the steps, they noticed an increasingly musty smell, which they first attributed to the ancient walls of the building. Then, however, they began to suspect their little girl, and by the time they reached the top it was clear that she needed immediate attention. “And from the very place,” explained Gamow, raising his arm and his voice dramatically, “where Galileo launched his experimental objects, we also propelled…”
    • Rudolf Arnheim in Ballast Quarterly Review Vol 9 No 2 (Winter 1993), p. 2.
  • Rutherford did not pretend to understand quantum mechanics, but he understood that the Gamow formula would give his accelerator a crucial advantage. Even particles accelerated at much lower energies... would be able to penetrate into nuclei. Rutherford invited Gamow to Cambridge in January 1929... [They] became firm friends and Gamow's insight gave Rutherford the impetus to go full steam ahead with the building of his accelerator.
  • Take a look at George Gamow, who is now recognized as one of the great cosmologists of the last hundred years. I speculate that he probably didn't win the Nobel Prize because people could not take him seriously. He wrote children's books. His colleagues have publicly stated his writing children's books on science had an adverse effect on his scientific reputation, and people could not take him seriously when he and his colleagues proposed that there should be a cosmic background radiation, which we now know to be one of the greatest discoveries of 20th-century physics.
  • If contribution in life is measured by the influence of a person's best ideas, then George Gamow's contribution has been immense. He explained radioactive decay, described reaction mechanisms and rates in the interior of stars, proposed how the elements were made, and suggested how DNA might provide the code for protein synthesis. Those topics have evolved into major fields of science...
    • Professor William C. Parke, George Washington University, in GW Magazine (Spring 2000)

External links[edit]

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