Ralph Alpher, American cosmologist, Died at 86


Ralph Asher Alpher died on August 12, 2007, at the age of 86, he was an American cosmologist.

Born on February 3, 1921, the son of a Belarussian Jewish immigrant, Samuel Alpher (born Ilfirovich), from Vitebsk, Belarus.

His mother, Rose Maleson, died of stomach cancer in 1938 and his father later remarried.

Ralph graduated at age 15 from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., and was Major and Commander of his school’s Cadet program.

He worked in the high school theater as stage manager for two years, supplementing his family’s Depression-era income.

He contributed to the development of the Mark 32 and Mark 45 detonators, torpedoes, Naval gun control, and other top-secret ordnance work and he was recognized at the end of the War with the Naval Ordnance Development Award (December 10, 1945—with Symbol).

Perhaps because of the highly classified nature of his work for the U.S. Navy and the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Alpher’s war time work has been somewhat obscured by security classification.

From 1944 through 1955 he was employed at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

During the daytime he was involved in the development of ballistic missiles, guidance systems, and related subjects, in 1948 he earned his Ph.D. in Physics with a theory of Nucleosynthesis called neutron-capture, and from 1948 onward collaborated with Dr. Robert C. Herman, also at APL, on predictions of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

He met eminent Russian physicist George Gamow at the University, who subsequently took him on as his doctoral student.

This was somewhat of a coup, as Gamow was an eminent Soviet defector and one of the luminaries on the GWU faculty.

It is apparent that Alpher provided much needed mathematical ability to support Gamow’s theorizing.

Also confusion about Alpher’s seminal work in astrophysics continues (2015).

Gamow often gave talks across the world on “The Origin of the Elements” which was Alpher’s original dissertation.

Alpher followed this up with the first prediction of the existence of “fossil” radiation from a hypothetical singularity, the echo of the Big Bang.

This was “discovered,” not for the first time, by Penzias and Wilson at Bell Labs in Holmdel, NJ, using a horn radiotelescope.

They were not cosmologists or astrophysicists, but were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978.

His death was announced by Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., where he was a professor emeritus.

The announcement said he had been living in Austin and been in failing health since breaking his hip in February.

Alpher is survived by a son, Victor, of Austin; a daughter, Harriet Lebetkin of Danbury, Conn.; and two granddaughters.

His wife, the former Louise Simons, died in 2004.