What is Antimatter?

The Inspiring Story Of Carl Anderson: The American Physicist Who Discovered Antimatter.

Be it the Star Trek or the 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 topics of research and discussion in present times. Although Paul Dirac theoretically gave the idea of antimatter in 1928, Carl David Anderson was the one who provided 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 David Anderson (Image: wikipedia)
Carl David Anderson

Early life and Education:

Carl Anderson was born in New York on September 3, 1905, to Swedish parents, Carl and Emma Anderson. When Carl 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.

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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. 

Cloud chamber photo of the first positron ever identified by Anderson.. The deflection and direction of the particle's ion trail indicate that the particle is a positron. (Image : Wikipedia)
Cloud chamber photo of the first positron ever identified by Anderson.. The deflection and direction of the particle’s ion trail indicate that the particle is a positron. (Image : Wikipedia)

Paul Dirac proposed the concept of antiparticles 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.

Discovery of mu-mesons (muons) :

After the novel confirmation of antimatter, 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 of the mass of a proton. Anderson named these new particles as mesotrons (mesons).

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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).

The Meson Octet

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

Awards, honors, and positions held :

Carl worked as a researcher and assistant professor at Caltech in the initial years of his career. Later, he paved his way to becoming the chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy in 1962. During his lifetime, he won numerous awards and honors for his remarkable discoveries. Winning the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics tops the list of his achievements. However, apart from this, he was also a proud recipient of the 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!

Also watch: What is antimatter?

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