Monday, April 18, 2011

And then there was George Gamow

Gamow was almost a proto-Feynman, famous for his physics practical jokes. (An example: He once sabotaged Pauli's chair at a conference simply so he could yell "Pauli effect"! The "Pauli effect" was supposed to be that whenever a theorist, especially Pauli, started working with experimental equipment, the equipment would promptly break. One experimentalist friend of Pauli's refused to let him in the lab. This same friend owned a large wooden hammer, with which he would threaten his apparatus when it wasn't working. Everyone laughed -- until somebody "borrowed" the hammer and the apparatus promptly ceased to function. There was another physicist who brought his apparatus flowers every morning.)

Gamow was Russian. In 1932, he and his wife decided that they would rather like to move abroad. The authorities were not quite so fond of this idea as were the Gamows. To make a long story short, they decided to defect. By kayak.

Brilliant, no? Mr. and Mrs. Gamow planned to hop in their boat and paddle across to Finland. Or Turkey. Yes, they tried to defect by kayak twice. Both times they failed -- not because they were caught, but because of the weather. It was raining.

So in 1933 they chose a more, let's say, traditional approach. Gamow applied for permission to attend a prestigious conference in Brussels, the Solvay Conference. He recieved it, they went to Brussels -- and they never did come back. Eventually they moved to America. So it was a happy ending, but in the process it involved two separate attempts to defect from the Soviet Union by kayak.

This only confirms my suspicion that, well, physicists can be weird.

1 comment:

  1. That's very interesting! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I love you,