March 4, 1904 - Birth of Gamow, nuclear researcher and popularizer

George Gamow (1904-1968) was born on March 4, 1904. Born in Russia, from a very young age he excelled in research in Nuclear Physics. He proposed theoretical models, based on quantum mechanics, that explained the emission of α particles in the disintegration of radioactive nuclei. After several attempts to emigrate from his native country, he finally succeeded in 1933 (by attending the Solvay conference in Brussels) and in 1934 he settled in the USA, where he carried out the rest of his research and dissemination.

His first investigations in the USA were carried out with his disciple Edward Teller (1908-2003) proposing a theory of β decay. In 1948 he published an article in collaboration with his disciple Ralph Alpher (1921-2007) on the origin of helium in nucleosynthesis. This theory, later tested experimentally, was based on the existence of the Big Bang, which is indirect proof of the existence of this singularity at the origin of the universe. A co-author of the article (although he did nothing) was his friend Hans Bethe (1906-2005), whom Gamow included so that the article was the work of Alpher-Bethe-Gamow, or α-β-γ, the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.

Gamow is also credited with being the proponent of the hypothesis of the existence of microwave background radiation [accidentally proven experimentally by Robert W. Wilson (1936-) and Arnold A. Penzias (1933-), Nobel Prize winners in Physics in 1978], as a remnant of the Big Bang. Although Gamow co-authored the article, it appears that the idea and most of his work was done by his disciple Alpher. He also investigated the structure and function of DNA, thinking that each amino acid was coded for by four bases, something we now know to be wrong. However, Gamow has gone down in history as a great science writer. He wrote books on the history of science, such as Biography of Physics and Thirty Years that Shock Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory, which are very entertainingly written with many personal reminiscences. And he wrote great popular books, like the series on Mr. Tompkins, in which using this (non-scientific) character, he explains scientific concepts in a clear and accessible way; or the excellent Uno, dos, tres,… infinito, one of the books that I liked the most when I read it for the first time (when I was 13-14 years old). We must also highlight his popular science works in which he explains the advances in Physics of his time, such as The Creation of the Universe or Gravity.

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