Rustem Igor Gamow was born to George Gamow, the celebrated cosmologist and physicist, and ballet dancer Rho Gamow. Finishing high school at age 17, he joined the National Ballet Company. He held such jobs as breaking horses, delivering packages by motorcycle, and teaching karate before enrolling at the University of Colorado in 1958, where his father taught physics, microbiology and microphysics. Gamow holds a B.A. and M.S. in biology, and a Ph.D. in biophysics, all at University of Colorado.
Gamow worked on Phycomyces blakesleeanus during a postdoc under Max Delbrück at Caltech. At CU-Boulder, he did Phycomyces research for over twenty years, mainly on the avoidance and anemotropic responses, helical growth, and cell-wall mechanical properties. He also studied the infrared-detectors of the Boa constrictor.
An avid outdoorsman, Gamow developed many inventions for safety in outdoor activities. His first important one, patented in 1990, was the Gamow bag enabling mountain climbers to avoid altitude sickness by raising the surrounding pressure. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first expedition leader to summit Mount Everest, wrote him in congratulation. Another was the Shallow Underwater Breathing Apparatus ("SUBA"), a pressurized snorkel system permitting swimmers to breathe easily as deep as ten feet under water.
In 2002, a former assistant of Gamow’s filed a lawsuit against the university alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault from seven women. After the lawsuit was filed, the university began to take steps to fire Gamow. In 2004 the CU Board of Regents unanimously upheld the recommendation to fire Gamow for "moral turpitude." Professor Gamow also filed a lawsuit against CU in an attempt to be reinstated.