Physicist and author whose name keeps coming up in my nuclear physics class accompanied by various types of ugly math and chants of, "Is that the same Gamow who wrote all the Mr. Tompkins stories?"

Gamow was born in Russia in 1904 (well, Odessa's in the Ukraine now, but it was Russian Empire then). He studied at Leningrad, Copenhagen, and Cambridge, and after a couple shorter-term positions ended up as a professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. from 1934 to 1956. In between all this travelling around, he did the stuff that put him in the nuclear textbooks - things like explaining natural radioactivity, finding a formula for thermonuclear reaction rates that was meant to be used in astrophysics but ended up being handy for the people designing the H-bomb, and formulating the Gamow-Teller Selection Rule for Beta Emission. Even cooler, he and Ralph Alpher published a big paper coining the term Big Bang and giving one of the earliest theories of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis. As a joke, they added in Hans Bethe as a co-author -- thereby making the Alpher, Bethe, Gamow theory, also known as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma theory. (Thanks to Jurph for pointing this out!) He also developed an interest in biochemistry, proposing a genetic code that later turned out to be DNA. By 1956, he was working at the University of Colorado, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

If you're not being frequently subjected to ugly math, chances are that if you've heard of Gamow it's because of his popular writings. He and Fred Hoyle got into something of a pop physics war over Big Bang vs. inflationary universe theories. 1,2,3... Infinity was written to introduce the layperson to all sorts of scientific phenomena, and the Mr. Tompkins short stories featured a guy who went to physics lectures and then went home and dreamed about them. If you ever wanted to know how the world would change if G were doubled, checking them out is a lot of fun!

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