Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scientific Paper of the Week: Alpher, Bethe, Gamow

Oh, the things physicists do for a lark. Today's paper, titled "The Origin of Chemical Elements", describes how the Big Bang explains the relative abundance of hydrogen and helium in the universe.

The universe expanding after the Big Bang.

While tremendously interesting in its own right, the content of the paper is not the reason for its selection. In my General Physics class, we just covered alpha, beta, and gamma decay. The authors of this week's paper are Ralph Alpher, Hans Bethe, and George Gamow.

"Well, that's a fun coincidence!" you say.

Well, not quite...

Left to right: Ralph Alpher, George Gamow, and Hans Bethe, who's totally riding their coattails.

It turns out Bethe played no actual role in writing the paper. Gamow added him because he liked play on words with "alpha-beta-gamma". And they say physicists don't know how to have fun!

Aaron Santos is a physicist and author of the books How Many Licks? Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything and Ballparking: Practical Math for Impractical Sports Questions. Follow him on Twitter at @aarontsantos.

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