George Gamow


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 protein
s are constructed. Gamow's theory was found to be correct in 1961.

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