George Gamow (1904 - 1968) was a theoretical physicist born in Odessa, Ukraine, then in the Russian Empire. He fled to the United States in 1933, where he lived for the rest of his life.
He worked on several important scientific problems.
- Explaining alpha decay as quantum-mechanicsl tunneling. Using classical mechanics, the He4 nucleus will not reach the nucleus if one runs the decay backward. But in quantum mechanics, it has wave as well as particle properties, and it can thus spread out and go through the electrostatic-potential barrier. He calculated how much spreading out, successfully explaining observed alpha decay rates.
- Star and galaxy formation and stellar evolution.
- Nucleosynthesis in the Big Bang. In a classic paper written in 1948, he described how hydrogen and helium could be formed in the first few minutes of the Universe, and formed at approximately their present abundances.
- Genetics: nucleic-acid-to-protein translation. He proposed that 3 nucleotides were enough to specify each protein-forming amino acid, but his specific coding scheme, "Gamow's Diamonds", turned out to be incorrect.
He also wrote various science popularizations, like One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science and his Mr. Tompkins series, in which the eponymous character has dreams in which he sees relativistic and quantum-mechanical effects at familiar size scales.
He was an atheist: Gamow, George and Edward Teller - GWUEncyc