George Gamow

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George Anthony Gamow (originally Russian Георгий Антонович Гамов / Georgi Antonovich Gamow * February 20 jul. / 4. March  1904 greg. In Odessa , then Russian Empire , now Ukraine ; † 19th August 1968 in Boulder , Colorado ) was a Soviet After his flight to the USA in 1933 , physicist and university lecturer since 1934 . He made a major contribution to nuclear physics and the Big Bang theory and, together with his research group, predicted cosmic background radiation in 1948 , 16 years before it was discovered.


Gamow studied physics in his hometown of Odessa from 1922 to 1923 and at the University of Leningrad from 1923 to 1929 . In Leningrad he studied with the eminent cosmologist and mathematician Alexander Friedmann until he died in 1925. The new quantum mechanics know, he worked from 1928 for several months at Max Born at the University of Göttingen , where he first time ever with its application to the atomic nucleus employed and among other common today theory for understanding the alpha decay via tunneling published . There he met Fritz Houtermans , among others . He suggested that the reverse process should be dealt with by bombarding a nucleus with a proton or alpha particle . This is how they founded the nucleosynthesis of chemical elements in stars. This was followed by a year of study with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen .

In 1929 Gamow returned to the Soviet Union, but soon he was drawn back to the West: he went to Cambridge to work with Ernest Rutherford and again to Copenhagen. After his return in 1931 and his marriage to the physicist Lyubow Wochminzewa ( Russian Любовь Вохминцева ), Gamow was put under increasing pressure by the Soviet secret police OGPU , which aroused resistance to the Stalinist form of government in his homeland . So he secretly decided to flee to the West for good. Since legal exit was no longer possible for him at that time, he tried in 1932 with his wife to cross the Black Sea in a kayak towards Turkey , which, however, as well as an attempt made in the same year to flee in the Barents Sea towards Norway , failed due to stormy weather. A year later he was allowed to travel with his wife to a Solvay conference in Brussels ; He finally used this opportunity to flee to the USA.

Because of his origins, he was not allowed to work there on the Manhattan Project , the research into the atomic bomb that began in 1941 , although he had already been sentenced to death in absentia for his escape from the Soviet Union. This was also due to the fact that the political murder of Leon Trotsky in 1940 at the latest had shown the US authorities that there was an extensive network of Soviet agents in America as well and that under no circumstances would any information about the project be passed on to the Soviet Union. The unfounded mistrust in Gamow's case was not a setback for his scientific work: at George Washington University in Washington DC , numerous groundbreaking works were created in collaboration with Edward Teller and Ralph Alpher . For example, in collaboration with Teller from 1934 to 1936, he introduced Gamow-Teller transitions into the theory of beta decay . George Gamow worked with the student Ralph Alpher and the German physicist Hans Bethe on the theory of the formation of heavy elements after the Big Bang. This theory is known as the theorem of primordial nucleosynthesis .

Working in the USA

The student of Niels Bohr and Ernest Rutherford was a professor in Leningrad , Washington, DC and Boulder (Colorado) and developed his own atomic model named after him . His work on the theories of the alpha decay of atomic nuclei ( tunnel effect ), thermonuclear reactions , the formation of stars and the elements ( Alpher-Bethe-Gamow theory ) and beta decay have received worldwide attention.

Gamow's grave in Boulder, Colorado

George Gamow was one of the founders of the theory of a big bang and the expanding universe and developed a first concept about a hot beginning of the universe in 1948. As early as 1948 he said in his working group, the cosmic background radiation (Engl. Cosmic microwave background radiation, CMBR) ahead that was discovered In 1964.

Gamow was also a co-founder of the "RNA Tie Club". This club had set itself the task of cracking the secret of the "RNA amino acids" code. This club included such well-known personalities as Francis Crick and James D. Watson , the discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA , and the physicist Richard Feynman .

In addition, Gamow was also active as a journalist and wrote some popular science books on atomic physics and cosmological phenomena, the so-called Mr. Tompkins series.


On November 4, 1935, his son Rustem Igor was born in Georgetown , who later became a microbiologist . His first marriage was divorced in 1956. From 1958 until his death he was married to Barbara Perkins Gamow . Gamow and his second wife's grave is in Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado.


George Gamow became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1937 . In 1953 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences . In 1956 he was awarded the Kalinga Prize for Popularizing Science.

In 1970 the lunar crater Gamow and in 1999 the asteroid (8816) Gamow were named after him.

On October 19, 2015, a memorial plaque for Gamow was attached to the house at Herzberger Landstrasse 6 in Göttingen . He lived there for three months in 1928 while he was writing his quintessential work on the tunnel effect .

Bibliography (selection mainly of German titles)

  • Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland or dreams of c, g and h , Paul Zsolnay, Vienna 1954 ( Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland , 1940)
  • Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom (1945)

(Both books are reprinted in Mister Tompkins in paperback . Cambridge University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-521-44771-2 ;
in German: Mr. Tompkins' strange journey through cosmos and microcosm . ISBN 3-528-08419-7 )

  • Die Lebensgeschichte der Erde , F.Bruckmann, Munich 1941 (previously English edition Biography of the Earth )
  • Birth and death of the sun , Birkhäuser, Basel 1947
  • One, two, three ... Infinity , Goldmann, Munich 1958 ( One Two Three ... Infinity , Viking, New York 1947)
  • The Birth of the Universe , Reich, Munich 1959 ( The Creation of the Universe )
  • No longer by you with the Atom , Physik Verlag, Mosbach 1963
  • Biography of Physics , Econ, Düsseldorf / Vienna 1965
  • My Worldline (autobiography), Viking Press 1970


  • Wiktor Jakowlewitsch Frenkel: George Gamow: World line 1904-1933 (On the ninetieth anniversary of GA Gamov's birth) . In: Physics-Uspekhi . tape 37 , no. 8 , 1994, pp. 767-789 , doi : 10.1070 / PU1994v037n08ABEH000039 .
  • AD Chernin: Gamow in America: 1934-1968 (On the ninetieth anniversary of GA Gamov's birth) . In: Physics-Uspekhi . tape 37 , no. 8 , 1994, pp. 791-801 , doi : 10.1070 / PU1994v037n08ABEH000040 .
  • Roger Struewer: The Kaleidoscope of Science . Ed .: E. Ullmann-Margalit. Springer, 1986, ISBN 978-90-277-2159-4 , Gamow's Theory of Alpha-Decay, pp. 147-186 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-94-009-5496-0_14 .
  • E. Harper: George Gamow: Scientific Amateur and Polymath . In: Physics in Perspective . tape 3 , no. 3 , September 2001, p. 335-372 , doi : 10.1007 / PL00000536 .

Web links

Commons : George Gamow  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. George Gamow (1928): On the quantum theory of the atomic nucleus . In: Zeitschrift für Physik 51, p. 204. doi: 10.1007 / BF01343196
  2. George Gamow in the Find a Grave database . Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  3. Biography and career on the homepage of the University of Colorado, Boulder
  4. George Gamow in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature of the IAU (WGPSN) / USGS
  5. Minor Planet Circ. 34348