Carl Anderson: The Man Who Discovered Antimatter.

Be it Star Trek or Angels and Demons, these days almost every Science fiction movie makes it a point to include the word antimatter into it. Undoubtedly, Antimatter has become one of the hottest topic of Research and discussion in present times. Although Paul Dirac theoretically gave the idea of Antimatter in 1928, but Carl David Anderson was the one who gave us its first experimental proof in 1932. Today marks the 114th Birth Anniversary of the man behind the first successful identification of the antiparticle. And, our article is solely dedicated to him on his big day!

Carl Anderson
Carl David Anderson
Image Courtesy: wikipedia.org

Early life and Education:

Carl David Anderson was born in New York on September 3, 1905 to Swedish parents, Carl and Emma Anderson. When Anderson was a child he always wanted to pursue a career in athletics, as a high jumper. However, destiny had something completely different in store for him. The Anderson family later moved to Los Angeles. Here, Carl attended the Los Angeles Polytechnic High School and garnered interest in Science and then he never looked back. In 1924,he entered the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), with which he remained associated throughout his life. In 1927 Anderson received his bachelor's degree. He continued his education in graduate school where his work focused on physics and mathematics. In 1930, under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Robert A Millikan, Anderson obtained his doctorate degree with honors in physics.

Remarkable discoveries:

Experimental proof of Antimatter:

In 1932, Anderson, then a postdoc, was working under the supervision of Robert A Millikan. The inspiration behind their work was their quest to determine the nature of cosmic rays. They were doing so by photographing the track of cosmic rays particle in a cloud chamber. However, while doing so Anderson observed something unexpected. The track had an unusual curvature. Anderson deduced that it could only be produced by a particle carrying a positive charge but having a mass similar to an electron. He called this positively-charged electron a positron, which was the first identified antiparticle. Paul Dirac proposed the concept of anti particles in 1928. Only four years later, Anderson provided the experimental proof of Dirac’s theory. Undoubtedly, this was a big achievement in the field of Particle physics. This remarkable procurement won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936.

Related: How does Dirac equation predict the existence of antimatter?

This shows the trajectory of The positron as photographed through the cloud chamber
The trajectory of the positron as photographed through the cloud chamber.
Image Courtesy: wikipedia.org
Discovery of mu-mesons (muons) :

After the novel confirmation of anti matter, in 1936, Anderson made a second important experimental discovery. This dealt with the existence of a charged particle in cosmic radiation with a mass of about one-tenth the mass of a proton. Anderson named these new particles as mesotrons (mesons). At the time of their discovery, these particles were believed to be identical to the nuclear particles predicted by H. Yukawa less than two years earlier. However, It was later realized that Anderson's meson is actually the mu meson (or muon), and Yukawa's meson is actually the pi meson (or pion).

Anderson spent all of his academic and research career at CalTech. His also worked extensively on X-Rays. Even after the World War II ended, Anderson continued to develop the field of particle physics, such was his love towards his work!

Also Read: 5 Unsolved Problems In Particle Physics That Are Way Too Interesting

Awards, honours and positions held :

Anderson worked as a researcher and assistant professor at Caltech in the initial years of his career. Later, he paved his way to become the chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy in 1962. During his lifetime, he won numerous awards and honours for his remarkable discoveries. Winning the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics tops the list of his achievements. However, apart from this, he was a proud recipient of Elliott Cresson Medal (1937). The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow in 1950.

Who knew that a child who is dreaming of becoming a high jumper will end up giving the world its first observed antiparticle! Everything is so uncertain. So keep working hard and keep dreaming. You never know what big you are going to give this world in years to come!

Related: 5 hypothetical particles, the discoveries of which would change the course of science.

2 thoughts on “Carl Anderson: The Man Who Discovered Antimatter.

    1. Such articles should be compiled and should be included in the course books of the children to trigger their inventive brain cells taking inspiration from them, worldwide.

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