The Origin of Chemical Elements. Ralph Alpher, Hans Bethe, George Gamow.
The Origin of Chemical Elements
The Origin of Chemical Elements

The Origin of Chemical Elements

"With the experimental and theoretical information now available it is possible to give a tentative description of the structure and evolution of the universe.."

FIRST EDITION of the scientific foundation for the Big Bang theory: the famous "Alpha=Beta-Gamma" paper.

Physicist George Gamow "was interested in the Big Bang in relation to nucleosynthesis- the formation of atomic nuclei. Gamow wanted to see whether nuclear physics and the Big Bang could explain the observed atomic abundances," specifically, "whether the early moments of the Big Bang could be responsible for our universe being dominated by hydrogen and helium." With his graduate student Ralph Alpher, Gamow began constructing an ingenius mathematical model that attempted to explain the nuclear processes that would have occurred at the conditions of the extreme heat of the very early universe. They "spent three years working through their calculations, questioning their assumptions, updating their cross-sections and refining their estimates... This was an extraordinary adventure. They were applying concrete physics to a previously vague Big Bang theory, attempting to mathematically model the conditions and events of the early universe. They were estimating initial conditions and applying the laws of nuclear physics to see how the universe evolved with time and how the processes of nucleosynthesis progressed."

The result was a stunning success. With their model, Alpher and Gamow could predict the formation of hydrogen and helium in the observed proportions ( 99.99% of all atoms ) in the universe. "This result was the first major triumph for the Big Bang model since Hubble had observed and measured the redshifts of galaxies."

When Gamow and Alpher's paper, "The Origin of Chemical Elements" was being sent for publication in the April 1, 1948 issue (April Fool's Day) of the Physical Review, Gamow couldn't resist playing a little joke on the scientific community. Even though his good friend Hans Bethe contributed nothing to the paper, Gamow added his name to the list of authors so the readers could enjoy the sight of a paper authored by Alpher, Bethe, Gamow and appreciate the pun on the Greek letters alpha, beta, and gamma. One of the unintended consequences of this joke was that is stripped the young Alpher of much of the credit due to him, for the public naturally assumed that the famous Bethe and Gamow had now done all the work.

"The Alpha-Beta-Gamma paper, as it became known, was a milestone in the Big Bang versus eternal universe debate. It showed that it was possible to do real calculations relating to the nuclear processes that might have occurred after a hypothetical Big Bang, and thus test this theory of creation. Big Bang supporters could now point to two pieces of evidence, the expansion of the universe and the abundance of hydrogen and helium, and show that they were entirely consistent with the Big Bang model of the universe." Simon Singh, Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, pp. 306-336.

This volume also includes the following papers listed in Particle Physics: One Hundred Years of Discoveries:

Hincks and Pontecorvo (pp. 257), "Search for Gamma-Radiation in the 2.2-Microsecond Meson Decay Process"

M.E. Rose (p.279), "The Charge Distribution in Nuclei and the Scattering of High Energy Electrons"

H.M. Foley and P. Kusch (p.412), "On the Intrinsic Moment of the Electron". Nobel Prize to P. Kusch awarded in 1955 "for his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron".

J. Schwinger (p.416), "On Quantum-Electrodynamics and the Magnetic Moment of the Electron".

R.D. Sard and E.J. Althauss (p. 1251), "Test of the Hypothesis that the Sea-Level Cosmic-Ray Meson Disintegrates into a Photon and an Electron".

IN: The Physical Review, Vol. 73, No. 7, pp. 803-4; April 1 1948. Lancaster, PA and New York, NY: American Institute of Physics, 1948. The whole volume, January- June15, 1948 offered (1514 pages). Thick quarto, contemporary black library cloth. Institutional bookplate on front pastedown. Slight wear to binding, otherwise fine.

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