Philosophical Society of Washington

The Life and Works of George Gamov

Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, and Popular Science Writer

G. David Anderson
George Washington University

2096th Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 20, 1998 at 8:15 PM


George Gamow made fundamental contributions to the fields of nuclear physics, cosmology and biophysics. He is esteemed by generations of scientists and lay-people for his popularization of science.

Gamow arrived at GW in 1934 and, with Edward Teller and Merle Tuve (Carnegie Institution of Washington), immediately began an annual series of theoretical physics symposia held each April on the GW campus. The symposia ran from 1935 to 1947 and influenced modern physics by combining interest in nuclear physics and astrophysics. During the 1939 conference Heils Bohr announced that Otto hahn and Fritz Strassman had successfully split the atom in Germany.

Although not directly participating in the production of the atomic bomb, Gamow did contribute to the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950s. As a consultant to the U.S. Navy he tutored Admirals Chester Nimitz and Ernest King in nuclear physics.

During the late 1940's Gamow, with Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, proponents of the “big bang” theory, predicted the existence of a cosmic background radiation. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for the discovery of that radiation.

Gamow made science user-friendly through his popularization of science, especially the popular Mr. Tompkins series of books. He won the Kalinga Prize, given by UNESCO, in 1956 for his works.

About the Author:

G. David Anderson received Master degrees from Georgia College and State University (1975) and Florida State University (1975). He received the Certificate of Advanced Study in Archival Management from Denver University in 1981. Mr. Anderson became University Archivist at The George Washington University in 1987. He previously served as University Archivist and Curator of Special Collections at Colgate University and Columbus State University. Mr. Anderson participated in the development of the 1996 symposium in honor of George Gamow and has a research interest in Gamow's life and works.

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