Russian-born US cosmologist, nuclear physicist,
and popularizer of science. His work in astrophysics included a study
of the structure and evolution of stars and the creation of the elements.
He explained how the collision of nuclei in the solar interior could
produce the nuclear reactions that power the Sun. With the 'hot Big
Bang' theory, he indicated the origin of the universe.
Gamow predicted that the electromagnetic radiation left over from the
universe's formation should, after having cooled down during the subsequent
expansion of the universe, manifest itself as a microwave cosmic background
radiation. He also made an important contribution to the understanding
of protein synthesis.
Gamow was born in Odessa (now in Ukraine), and studied at Leningrad
(St Petersburg) and Göttingen, Germany. He then worked at the Institute
of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, Denmark, and at the Cavendish
Laboratory, Cambridge, England. From 1931 to 1933 he was at the Academy
of Science in Leningrad, and then defected to the USA, becoming professor
at George Washington University in Washington DC 1934-56 and then at
the University of Colorado. In the late 1940s, he worked on the hydrogen
bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Gamow's model of alpha decay 1928 represented the first application
of quantum mechanics to the study of nuclear structure. Later he described
beta decay (see radioactive decay.
With US scientist Ralph Alpher, he investigated the possibility that
heavy elements could have been produced by a sequence of neutron-capture
thermonuclear reactions. They published a paper in 1948, which became
known as the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow (or alpha-beta-gamma) hypothesis, describing
the 'hot Big Bang'.
Gamow also contributed to the solution of the genetic code. The double-helix
model for the structure of DNA involves four types of nucleotides. Gamow
realized that if three nucleotides were used at a time, the possible
combinations could easily
code for the different amino acids of which all proteins
are constructed. Gamow's theory was found to be correct in 1961.