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GAMOW, GEORGE - Humorous Inscription with Drawings by Physicist George Gamow Re: Quasars
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GAMOW, GEORGE - Humorous Inscription with Drawings by Physicist George Gamow Re: Quasars

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George Gamow is Still Unsure About Quasars


GAMOW, GEORGE. (1904-1968). Russian-born, American physicist and cosmologist. Signed offprint. (“Geo”). 4pp. 4to. N.p., Between November 1967 and August 1968. Inscribed offprint (“Sam”) of his article “The History of the Universe” from the November 10, 1967 issue of Science to Dutch-born, American physicist SAMUEL GOUDSMIT (1902-1978).


The inscription is written as an illustration depicting four intersecting circles, three of which are labeled “QSO??,” “UFO??” and “?Quark?”  QSO is an abbreviation for quasi-stellar object or quasar, a black hole surrounded by a luminous disc of orbiting gas; a quark is the fundamental particle of which all matter is constituted; and UFO stands for unidentified flying object. The fourth circle, suggests a face (possibly a portrait of Goudsmit) underneath which Gamow has written “Geo → Sam.”  


Best known for his work on stellar evolution and nuclear reactions, Gamow escaped the Soviet Union in 1933 and immigrated to the United States a year later, joining the faculty of George Washington University, where he recruited Edward Teller, the “father” of the hydrogen bomb, to join him. It was there that Gamow took up the study of nuclear physics and proposed that stars become hotter as their hydrogen is depleted. A proponent of the hot “Big Bang” theory of the expanding universe, Gamow originally theorized that most elements were created in the extreme heat of the big bang. Gamow later served on the faculty of the University of Colorado and University of California, Berkeley, and was a founding member of the Physical Science Study Committee. In addition to authoring textbooks, he wrote The Atom and its Nucleus andthepopular science book One Two Three... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science.


Goudsmit developed an abiding passion for physics at the University of Leiden where he was a student of Paul Ehrenfest and where he attempted to forge a comprehensive quantum theory of atomic structure, working with Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Hendrik Lorentz. “The discovery of electron spin and its acceptance propelled Goudsmit into the inner circle of the world physics community,” (DSB). In 1928, Goudsmit arrived at the University of Michigan, which had emerged as a center of theoretical physics, and with which he remained affiliated for the next eighteen years. However, with the advent of war Goudsmit joined MIT’s Radiation Laboratory in 1941, and was later recruited as the civilian head of the top-secret Project ALSOS. A part of the Manhattan Project, the ALSOS mission was to assess the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb and eventually led to the arrest of the program’s leading scientists, including Hahn and Heisenberg, shortly before Germany surrendered. In 1948, Goudsmit joined the Brookhaven National Laboratory, chairing the physics department from 1952-1960. He was also editor-in-chief of Physical Review and founder of Physical Review Letters.


In the offprint, the article was printed with a letter “from an author” in which Gamow recounts his inspiration for the article, which deals with the gravitational constant and cosmic time, and which he conceived while a patient at “Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver where the surgeon very skillfully removed the deposits of calcium carbonate from both carotid arteries in my neck. Well, the increased supply of fresh blood to my brain caused a brainstorm (fortunately not brain stroke), and, the very evening of the day I mailed that letter, I get an idea which during the 2 days passed, begins to look better and better.”


Interestingly, Gamow’s article concludes with a revision to his delightful poem which appeared in Newsweek magazine, three years earlier. At that time, Gamow joked:


“Twinkle, twinkle, quasi-star
Biggest puzzle from afar
How unlike the other ones
Brighter than a billion suns
Twinkle, twinkle, quasi-star
How I wonder what you are.”


The article changes the final two lines to:


“Twinkle, twinkle, Quasistar

Now I know what you are.”


However, Gamow has corrected the final lines, yet again, by drawing a red pencil through “Now I” and adding in his own hand, “I don’t.”


Gamow’s byline is circled in red pencil with the notation “file reprints” in an unidentified hand. A faint paperclip mark and some very light wear. Fine. Accompanied by a one-page offprint about gravity from Umschau in Wissenschaft und Technik from 1967.



Item #20338

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