Ordinary Geniuses: How Two Mavericks Shaped Modern Science

Ordinary Geniuses: How Two Mavericks Shaped Modern Science

by Gino Segre

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A biography of two maverick scientists whose intellectual wanderlust kick-started modern genomics and cosmology.

Max Delbruck and George Gamow, the so-called ordinary geniuses of Segre's third book, were not as famous or as decorated as some of their colleagues in midtwentieth-century physics, yet these two friends had a profound influence on how we now see the world, both on its largest scale (the universe) and its smallest (genetic code). Their maverick approach to research resulted in truly pioneering science.

Wherever these men ventured, they were catalysts for great discoveries. Here Segre honors them in his typically inviting and elegant style and shows readers how they were far from "ordinary". While portraying their personal lives Segre, a scientist himself, gives readers an inside look at how science is done--collaboration, competition, the influence of politics, the role of intuition and luck, and the sense of wonder and curiosity that fuels these extraordinary minds.

Ordinary Geniuses will appeal to the readers of Simon Singh, Amir Aczel, and other writers exploring the history of scientific ideas and the people behind them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101517734
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/18/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,156,331
File size: 723 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Gino Segrè is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. An internationally renowned expert in high-energy elementary-particle theoretical physics, Segrè has served as director of Theoretical Physics at the National Science Foundation and received awards from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. This is his first book.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

1 When Max and Geo First Met 1

2 Max Grows Up 4

3 Geo Grows Up 12

4 Göttingen and Copenhagen 19

5 Particle or Wave? 24

6 Max's and Geo's Early Careers 32

7 Copenhagen, 1931 38

8 Zurich, 1931 44

9 Max, Bohr, and Biology 49

10 Max, Berlin, and Biology 57

11 Geo Escapes from Russia 63

12 The Russia Geo Left Behind 69

13 Geo Comes to America 74

14 The Sun's Mysteries Revealed 79

15 Max Leaves Germany 87

16 Max in the New World 96

17 Fission 103

18 Supernovae and Neutron Stars 111

19 Max Meets Manny and Sal 117

20 Hitting the Jackpot 125

21 What Is Life? 131

22 The Phage Group Grows 136

23 Geo and the Universe 144

24 Gamow's Game 152

25 Bohr, Geo, and Max 159

26 Back to Germany 166

27 The New Manchester 172

28 Alpha, Beta, Gamma 177

29 Big Bang Versus Steady State 185

30 DNA 192

31 The Double Helix 199

32 Geo and DNA 209

33 Geo Begins Again 219

34 Max Begins Again 224

35 The Molecular Biology That Was 228

36 The Phage Church Trinity Goes to Stockholm 234

37 The Triumph of the Big Bang 238

38 The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation 243

39 Cosmology's New Age 247

40 Einstein's Biggest Blunder 253

41 Duckling or Swan? 259

42 After the Golden Age 264

43 The Unavoidable and the Unfashionable 270

44 Mr. Tompkins Arrives 277

45 Geo's and Max's Final Messages 282

Acknowledgments 288

Notes 291

Bibliography 307

Index 317

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Segrè spins a rousing tale of scientific thought and adventure. And like his subjects, he makes a convincing case for approaching new problems with a sense of wonder.
--Publisher’s Weekly

An exuberant dual biography that integrates developments in quantum physics, cosmology and genetics since the 1920s with the lives of these two scientists.
--Kirkus Reviews

Gino Segrè’s fascinating dual biography of George Gamow and Max Delbrück, “Ordinary Geniuses.” Gamow was a theoretical physicist who made an interesting foray into the biology of protein synthesis, while Delbrück was a theoretical physicist who became a biologist and then won the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics.
--Wall Street Journal

In parallel chapters Segrè has sensitively and insightfully narrated chronologically Delbrück and Gamow’s personal and professional lives. And while doing so, he has clearly presented and explained their scientific contributions; the prior works on which they were based; and their present day importance and relevance.
--American Scientist

Segrè convincingly shows how the pair’s maverick personalities led to their discoveries, while their restlessness often stopped them seeing their ideas to maturity.
--New Scientist

Ordinary Geniuses makes me wistfully wonder if the world will ever again witness the coming together of such fun-loving intellectual brilliance.”
—James D. Watson, author of The Double Helix

“George Gamow and Max Delbrück were free spirits and practical jokers. They broke away from the mainstream of science in the 1930s and found new ways of thinking that opened the way to new sciences in the 1950s. George invented Big Bang cosmology, and Max invented molecular biology. This book brings them magnificently to life. It gives us a fresh view of the way new sciences are born.”
—Dr. Freeman Dyson, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study
Ordinary Geniuses is no ordinary book. Gino Segrè, a masterly storyteller, takes us off the beaten path to view two revolutions in twentieth-century science from a novel perspective. By chronicling the lives of two renegade scientists, Max Delbrück and George Gamow, Segrè puts the birth of both molecular biology and modern cosmology in a whole new light. An engaging read.”
—Marcia Bartusiak, author of The Day We Found the Universe

“Gino Segrè is an accomplished scientist, a gifted writer, and a meticulous scholar. His talents come together in this wonderful book, the story of the intertwining careers of two quite amazing scientists. But it is more. It is a loving ode to twentieth-century science and will enthrall as it instructs.”
—Kenneth W. Ford, author of 101 Quantum Questions: What You Need to Know About the World You Can't See; former director, American Institute of Physics

“A marvelous book. Segre describes vividly how Delbruck helped to establish the new science of molecular biology while Gamow went into cosmology and originated our current view of the Big Bang. They both left major impressions on science as might be expected from “ordinary geniuses.””
—Alex Rich, Sedgwick Professor of Biophysics at M.I.T.

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