All Greek

In 1948, George Washington University doctoral student Ralph Alpher was working on a cosmology thesis under physicist George Gamow. As the paper took shape, “Gamow, with the usual twinkle in his eye, suggested that we add the name of Hans Bethe to an Alpher-Gamow letter to the editor of the Physical Review,” listing the authors as Alpher-Bethe-Gamow.

Bethe agreed to join, and the result, now known as the αβγ paper, was published on April 1, 1948 (“believe it or not, a date not of our asking”). “The response was fascinating,” Alpher later recalled, “ranging from feature articles, Sunday supplement stories, newspaper cartoons and voluminous mail from religious fundamentalists, to a packed audience of over 200, including members of the press, at the traditionally public (though usually not in this sense) ‘defence’ of the thesis.”

Gamow added, “There was, however, a rumor that later, when the alpha, beta, gamma theory went temporarily on the rocks, Dr. Bethe seriously considered changing his name to Zacharias.”