Ralph Alpher

alpherResearch Guide to Dr. Ralph A. Alpher

Radiations Magazine Spring 2009 Three-part article by Victor S. Alpher, PhD
8/12/07 Big Bang pioneer Ralph Alpher dies following a long illness. Obituary.

7/27/07 President Bush Presents Awards to 2005 and 2006 National Medal of Science and Technology Recipients

5/30/07 Ralph Alpher recipient of National Medal Science (PDF)!

Alpher, Ralph; Bethe, Hans (PDF); Gamow, George (PDF) – Ralph Alpher, with George Gamow and Robert Herman, first proposed the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe. Alpher and Herman’s prediction that radiation from the Big Bang can still be observed today, later confirmed by observations, offers the strongest evidence that the Big Bang is correct. The Origan of Chemical Elements (PDF) Phys. Rev. 73:803-804.

Alpher, Ralph Asher: 1921-2007. Physics professor at Union College, Eagle Scout, mathematician and provider of the model for the Big Bang theory. Biography by Jeanette Cain.

Background A play by Lauren Gunderson, based on the true story of New York Cosmologist Dr. Ralph Alpher.

Statement by Susan French, Vice-President, Dudley Observatory, Board of Trustees

In 1948, a young Ralph Alpher presented his doctoral thesis. It explored the origin of the chemical elements very early in a Universe that began with a bang – the Big Bang. This monumental work lead to the conclusion that the cooling glow of this primordial fireball still permeates the sky.

Continuing work with Robert Herman refined ideas on the synthesis of the elements, ultimately explaining where over 99% of the visible Universe came from. They also predicted both the current temperature and nature of the Big Bang’s relic radiation – but they were well ahead of their time. Ralph and his co-workers couldn’t convince observational astronomers to look for this radiation, and it wasn’t detected until 1964 – by accident.

The discovery of the cosmic background radiation not only vindicated Ralph’s work, it put the Big Bang theory at the forefront of cosmology – and turned cosmology into a serious science.

This year’s presidential election is considered big news, yet who will be President for the next four years truly pales in comparison to what Ralph Alpher has given us. 100 years from now, who will still care whether it was Bush or Gore? Ralph has given us something that will be remembered as long as civilization exists – the key to the birth of the material Universe.

Ralph’s work was listed in the American Physical Society News under the Top Ten Astronomical Triumphs of the Millennium. I dare say – probably longer.

Ralph Alpher is one of the reasons I became involved with astronomy. The grandeur of such ideas stirs my very soul. So I’d like to thank you, Ralph, and present you with this T-shirt. It says, “I lit the fuse”. And while you may not have ignited the Big Bang itself, you truly lit the fuse to our understanding of the universe – and generated an explosion of study and knowledge in cosmology.


Books by Ralph Alpher

  • The Life and Times of the Universe. Walkerton, IN: Unitarian Universalist Advance, 1984.
  • With Robert Herman. Genesis of the Big Bang. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Articles by Ralph Alpher

  • With Milan D. Fiske and Beverly Fearn Porter. “Physics Manpower: Present and Future.” Physics Today 33, issue 1 (1980): 44-53.
  • With Robert Herman. “Big Bang Cosmology and the Cosmic Black-Body Radiation.”
    Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 119, no. 5 (1975): 325-348.
  • With Robert Herman. “Big Bang Model.” American Scientist 77, issue 1 (1989): 6-7.
  • With Robert Herman. “On Nucleon-Antinucleon Symmetry in Cosmology.” Science 128, no. 3329 (1958): 904.
  • With Robert Herman. “Reflections on Early Work on ‘Big Bang’ Cosmology.” Physics Today 41, issue 8 (1988): 24-34.
  • With Robert Herman and George Gamow. “Thermal Cosmic Radiation and the Formation of Protogalaxies.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 58, no. 6 (1967): 2179-2186.

Media Clips on Ralph Alpher

Associated Press:

  • August 24, 2007: “Physicist Ralph Alpher Dies at 86; Research on ‘Big Bang’ Theory Was Unheralded for Years”

Astronomy Magazine:

  • October 2007: “How the Big Bang Forged the First Elements” – Includes discussion of Alpher and George Gamow’s early calculations

The Chronicle [Union College]:

  • November 21, 1991: Alpher’s lectures in Hungary and Poland
  • May 14, 1992: Alpher to be honored at Union College Commencement

Daily Telegraph [London]:

  • September 22, 2004: “The Forgotten Father of the Big Bang”
  • August 30, 2007: “Ralph Alpher”

Discover Magazine:

  • July 1999: “The Last Big Bang Man Left Standing – Physicist Ralph Alpher Devised Big Bang Theory of Universe”

Dudley Observatory:

  • Press releases written by the Dudley Observatory about Alpher in the news (2006 and 2007)

GE Monogram:

  • May-June 1982: “Pioneer of the Big Bang”

The Independent [London]:

  • October 10, 1999: “Serendipity: Quiet Voice of the Big Bang” [accessed via Lexis Nexis Academic database]

Los Angeles Times:

  • August 16, 2007: “Ralph Alpher, 86: Pioneering Physicist in Cosmic Research Overlooked for a Nobel Prize”

New York Times:

  • August 18, 2007: “Ralph Alpher, 86, Expert in Work on the Big Bang, Dies”

Parade Magazine:

  • September 8, 1985: “A Ride on a Comet”

Physics Today:

  • October 1975: “Alpher and Herman Honored for Radiation Research” [accessed via Academic Search Premier database]
  • July 1980: “APS News: Council Elects Alpher to Executive Committee” [accessed via Academic Search Premier database]


  • August 23, 2007: “Ralph Alpher, 1921-2007”


  • Includes photographs of Alpher and information on donating in his memory, as well as a bibliography of his lectures and presentations

Records of the Academy [American Academy of Arts and Sciences]:

  • May 1986: “Members Elected May 14, 1986” [accessed via JSTOR database]

St. Petersburg (FL) Times:

  • August 19, 2007: “His Big Bang Theory Resulted in Whimper” [accessed via Lexis Nexis Academic database]

Schenectady (NY) The Daily Gazette:

  • May 3, 1992: “Latest Big Bang Data Boosts Union Professor’s Theories”
  • June 15, 2007: “Ex-Union College Professor Wins Science Medal”
  • August 14, 2007: “Big Bang Theorist, a Longtime Union College Professor, Dies”

Science [New Series]:

  • December 9, 1955: Alpher’s appointment to General Electric Research Laboratory, Schenectady, NY [accessed via JSTOR database]
  • December 4, 1981: Alpher elected to physics committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [accessed via JSTOR database]

The Scientist:

  • May 3, 1993: Alpher and Robert Herman quoted in Physics Today article (1988)

Albany (NY) Times Union:

  • August 11, 1986: Alpher named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • November 22, 1986: “Union Professor Helped Advance Big-Bang Theory”
  • May 1, 1988: “Disturbances Reign at Observatory” [Alpher quoted in article about Dudley Observatory]
  • August 29, 1989: “Radiation Studied for Clues to Big Bang”
  • November 14, 1989: “Union Physicist to See His Theories Launched Skyward”
  • January 22, 1991: “Big Bang Theory Alive and Well”
  • May 19, 1991: “Station’s Awkward Management System Caused Rift, Some Execs Say”
  • June 14, 2007: “Injustice Ameliorated”
  • August 14, 2007: “Alpher, Ralph A.” [Obituary]
  • August 14, 2007: “‘Big Bang’ Researcher Dies” [Article]
  • August 17, 2007: “Genius Propelled Big Bang’s Forgotten Father”

Union College Press Release:

  • February 9, 1993: “Ralph Alpher, Union Professor, to Receive Award for Contribution to ‘Big Bang’ Theory”
  • August 13, 2007: “Big Bang Pioneer Ralph Alpher Dies Following a Long Illness”

US States News:

  • July 30, 2007: “New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation Congratulates National Science Foundation Award Winners” [accessed via Lexis Nexis Academic database]

Washington Post:

  • August 14, 2007: “Ralph A. Alpher; Physicist Published Theory of Big Bang”

Audio-Visual Materials on Ralph Alpher
[See also “Archival Materials” below]

  • “Beyond the Big Bang,” part of the “The Universe” series, History Channel, 120 minutes.
  • “Information for Researchers of Genesis of the Big Bang and Big Bang Cosmology,” http://www.ralphalpher.com/wst_page5.html – Includes the following:
  • 1966 audio interview, “The Universe Revisited
  • 1973 audio lecture, Big Bang Past, Present, Future
  • 1988 lecture (sound and picture) on the Big Bang, at Dr. John Sowa’s chemistry class, Union College
  • 1994 colloquium (sound and picture) on the Big Bang
  • 1999 radio interview (audio)
  • 2000 interview (sound and picture) on Alpher’s early career at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution, and work with Drs. George Gamow and Robert Herman
  • 2005 interview (sound and picture), where Alpher discusses current understanding of the Big Bang, black holes and dark matter, and other issues

Archival Materials

At Dudley Observatory, Schenectady, NY

  • Papers, Ralph Alpher. 2 cubic feet. Collection documents the operation and activities of Dudley Observatory (bulk: 1980s and 1990s). Also includes news clippings files covering the activities of Dudley Observatory and scientific research developments from 1950s to 1990s. Some photographs included.

At Schaffer Library, Union College, Schenectady, NY

  • Papers, Ralph Alpher. 40 linear feet. Collection includes research notes, letter books, and other scientific papers related to Alpher’s work.

At Niels Bohr Library, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD

Audio-Visual Materials Collection:
  • George Gamow Symposium. 4 videocassettes. Alpher was a speaker at this program—held in honor of Gamow’s career—on April 12, 1996.
Miscellaneous Physics Collection:
  • “Correspondence with Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman Regarding the History of the Big Bang Cosmology and the Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background, 1991-1995.” 1 folder. Collection consists of letters between Alpher, Herman, and Stephen G. Brush (professor of the history of science, University of Maryland) relating to Brush’s articles on the Big Bang cosmology and cosmic microwave background that were published in Scientific American and Perspectives on Science.
  • “Remembrance of Things Past: Some Recollections of the Development of the Big Bang Model,” by Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman. 1 folder.
Miscellaneous Tape Collection:
  • Joint Symposium of the Division of Astrophysics and the Forum for the History of Physics. 6 sound cassettes. Program was held in two sessions: April 21 and 22, 1987. Alpher spoke at the second session entitled “Stellar Composition, Birth of the Universe, Origin of the Elements.”
Oral History Collection:
  • Interview with Ralph Alpher and a joint interview with Robert Herman. 4 cassettes and transcript. August 11 and 12, 1983.
  • Interview with Robert Henry Dicke. 3 cassettes and transcript. June 18, 1985. Dicke comments on Alpher, George Gamow, and Robert Herman.
  • Interview with P. J. E. Peebles. 3 cassettes and transcript. September 27, 1984. Peebles refers to work done on helium production by Alpher and Robert Herman.
  • Interview with David Todd Wilkinson. 3 cassettes and transcript. September 27, 1984. Wilkinson refers to Alpher, Robert Herman, James Follin, George Gamow, and Joseph Weber.
At Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Papers, George and Barbara P. Gamow. 12.8 linear feet. Bulk of records: 1950-1975. Alpher is a correspondent.