George Gamow and Ralph Alpher: a review of their cosmological collaboration as mentor and protégé 1942–1955
, Austin, USA
2 St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, CB3 0HN, Cambridge, UK
Accepted: 21 July 2023
Published online: 23 August 2023
George Antonovich Gamow (1904–1968) and Ralph Asher Alpher (1921–2007) were associates from 1942 until 1968. In this paper, we examine an intense period of collaboration at George Washington University. Our inquiry pivots on a collection of 53 letters and postcards in the Library of Congress (LoC) that Alpher received from Gamow during his absences from Washington DC. In order to set our examination of the letters in their historical context, we present brief biographies of Gamow and Alpher, summarise the state that nuclear astrophysics had already reached by 1945, and examine the initial impact of the αβγ paper. We conducted detailed analysis of twenty of the LoC letters which documents successive attempts by Alpher and Gamow to address the deficiencies in their model of primordial element building by neutron-capture in the big bang. We give a detailed account of the interactions between Gamow writing from Los Alamos, New Mexico, and his two co-workers Alpher and Robert Herman in Washington DC. The correspondence brings their enthusiasm and commitment to life as they react to the advances and setbacks they encountered. Our narrative illustrates the remarkable partnership that Gamow and Alpher shared, a this was, infused with friendship and therein scientific discovery.
© The Author(s) 2023
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