Russian-American Scientists Meet in Washington, Honor George Gamow

Vladimir Shiltsev

George Gamow poster

Conference poster of the 2015 RASA-USA “George Gamow” conference (November 7-8, 2015)

Prof. Igor Gamow and Prof. Eamon Harper

Prof. Igor Gamow, son of George Gamow (right), and Gamow’s biographer, Professor Eamon Harper of GWU at the 2015 RASA-USA conference.

Gamow Award ceremony group photo

2015 RASA Gamow Award ceremony (left to right): Dr. Vladimir Shiltsev (RASA President, Fermilab), Prof. Roald Sagdeev (UMD, physics), Dr. Nikolay Vasiliev (President RASA-USA, Harvard), Prof. Vladimir Zelman (2015 Gamow Laureate, USC), Prof. Igor Gamow (Colorado), Prof. Igor Efimov (2015 Gamow Laureate, GWU), and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The Russian-speaking Academic Scientists Association (RASA) is an international organization representing the Russian scientific diaspora. RASA is a nonprofit organization working to consolidate the Russian-speaking scientific community abroad, to advance the career development and qualifications of its members, and to provide opportunities for social and cultural exchanges. RASA represents over 500 members, including scientists, engineers and hi-tech entrepreneurs in academia, national laboratories and industry. More than half of the membership is in the United States, forming the Russian-American Science Association (RASA-USA); the rest are in the European and Asian branches. The objectives of RASA include the exchange of knowledge and experience, initiation of joint projects, coordination of research programs, organization of conferences, seminars, research schools, sharing knowledge of teaching programs and lecture materials. More on RASA and its goals can be found in the December 2012 issue of “APS News” and in the fall 2013 issue of the “APS FIP Newsletters”.

We hold annual conferences and the 2015 RASA-USA Conference took place at The George Washington University (GWU, Washington, DC) on November 7 and 8, 2015. More than 160 scientists attended the conference which was sponsored by an “International Friends of APS Activity” grant. The APS sponsorship sent a strong message that RASA’s George Gamow session is very meaningful to both the American, the Russian-proper and the Russian scientific diaspora communities and that these events help to form "diplomatic links" which strengthen communication and collaboration among our physics communities. It is noteworthy that a very nice article “Russian-American Scientists Honor George Gamow (1904-1968): Conference session celebrates physicist born 111 years ago” by Emily Conover has been published in the APS News right after the Conference: APS News update on Gamow and, later, the link to it (with George Gamow’s photo) made it to the front page of the APS main website.

Indeed, the George Gamow session was the key scientific event of the 2015 RASA-USA Conference. Georgy Antonovich (in the US - George) Gamow was an outstanding theoretical physicist. He was born in the Russian Empire in 1904, received his education in the USSR, and became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences as one of the brightest representatives of the "new generation" of physicists. Gamow spent several years among a brilliant assemblage of physicists of the in-between-the-wars Europe and after immigration to the US in 1934, established a new school of physics in the United States. His career in the US spans more than three decades, including 22 years at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and 12 years at the University of Colorado, until his death in 1968. The list of Gamow accomplishments includes several "Nobel-caliber" works - the theory of radioactive decay and nuclear transformations, the Big Bang theory, nuclear fusion and cosmic microwave radiation, proposition of the mechanism of the DNA double helix, and others. But for many contemporaries, and for many attendees of the Gamow’s session, his greatest influence on several generations of students, graduate students and people interested in science was his brilliant popular books. Particularly, a series on a hypothetical Mr. Tompkins, a clerk trying to understand the science behind various phenomena, a stunning book “One, Two, Three ... Infinity” explaining "how things work" to laymen and his sci-pop articles in magazines and newspapers. George Gamow’s life and works are fully consonant with the aims and activities of our association, and so it seemed natural that RASA-USA established the award named after Gamow. The award goes to scientists of the Russian diaspora who have made outstanding contributions to science and contributed to the strengthened international reputation of Russian science.

Amy Flatten, APS Director for International Affairs, opened Gamow’s session with a short welcome message about how the United States will remember and appreciate the contribution of Gamow and with gratitude for organizing the memorial RASA Conference. Professor William Briscoe, GWU Physics Department Chair, elaborated on the achievements of George Gamow - which he called the most outstanding scientist who has ever worked in the walls of his university - and on how GWU keeps up Gamow’s scientific heritage, from a memorial plaque on the Physics Department building, to the commemorative meetings and support of the Gamow’s studies, like, e.g., those conducted by Gamow’s major biographer Prof. Eamon Harper of GWU.

The most entertaining part of the session was a presentation by George Gamow’s son, Igor. Professor Igor Gamow, who flew to the conference from Colorado, gave a lively and interesting account of his father, showed several video clips about him and told a number of stories and anecdotes about George and his friends. The audience literally bombarded Igor with questions and did not want to let him go.

Scientific reports followed - first, Vladimir Shiltsev of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Batavia, IL) described several puzzling results of modern fundamental physics (from unexpected peaks in the data of the Large Hadron Collider, to the periodic variations of the measured gravitational constant, to the “Penrose rings” in measurements of cosmic microwave radiation of the universe as possible hints of previous reincarnations of the Universe before the Big Bang). Dr. Igor Moskalenko of Stanford University gave an overview of modern astrophysics including recent studies of high-energy cosmic particles, the Sun, stars and galaxies.

The session ended with the first-ever RASA-USA Gamow Award ceremony. There were two recipients - Professor Igor Efimov, a 1986 graduate of the Moscow Physical and Technical Institute, currently Chair of GWU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, for his work on the physics of the heart and contribution to the development of the Association (he was the first President of RASA-USA); and Professor Vladimir Zelman of the University of Southern California, a 1956 graduate of the Novosibirsk Medical Institute, for his contribution to the development of neurology and organization of medical research centers in Russia.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the US, Mr. Sergey Kislyak - himself a physicist, graduated from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute - reminded the audience that at 28, George Gamow became the youngest member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Then - after his emigration - was excluded from the Academy, but then in the 1990’s was restored in the modern day Russian Academy of Sciences. Ambassador Kislyak remarked that George Gamow is the clearest representative of what he called "thinking in Russian" - the motto of the RASA Association.

RASA is seeking new members – so, if you want to join, please, email us at

Vladimir Shiltsev is President of the Russian-speaking Academic Scientists Association (RASA) and Director of the Accelerator Physics Center, Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois