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Carl David Anderson

Carl David AndersonAKA Carl David Anderson, Jr.

Born: 3-Sep-1905
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 11-Jan-1991
Location of death: San Marino, CA
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, CA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Discovered the positron, mu-meson

In 1932 American physicist Carl David Anderson discovered the positron (positive electron), sometimes called the anti-electron, as it was the first known antiparticle and confirmed Paul Dirac's prediction of anti-matter. Until Anderson's discovery, it was widely assumed that electrons and protons were the basis of all matter, but alongside James Chadwick's discovery of the neutron (also in 1932), Anderson's finding threw the scientific understanding of nature at its most basic level into disarray. He also discovered the meson (a particle made of quark-antiquark pairs) in 1936, and in the same year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Since Cecil Powell's 1947 discovery of a more active meson called the pi-meson or pion, Anderson's meson has been generally referred to as the mu-meson or muon.

Anderson entered CalTech intending to study electrical engineering, and changed his major to physics after attending an inspiring lecture by Ira S. Bowen. He studied under Robert A. Millikan, and used and improved C. T. R. Wilson's cloud chambers to study the cosmic rays discovered by Victor Francis Hess. He also studied electrons ejected from gases by x-rays, and Compton scattering of cosmic rays. Prior to the start of World War II, Arthur H. Compton (of scattering fame) asked Anderson to take a leading position in what became the Manhattan Project, the American effort to build an atomic weapon, but Anderson declined. During the war he instead worked on developing a solid propellant rocket for the US Navy, technology used in the storming of Normandy Beach, which Anderson was dispatched to observe in 1944.

Father: Carl David Anderson (b. 26-May-1878)
Mother: Emma Adolfina Ajaxson (b. 1878, div.)
Wife: Lorraine Elvira Bergman Anderson (m. 1946, d. 1984, two sons)
Son: Marshall Anderson (stepson, mathematician, adopted 1946)
Son: David Anderson (computer programmer, b. 1949)

    High School: Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, Los Angeles, CA (1924)
    University: BS Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology (1927)
    University: PhD Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology (1930)
    Scholar: Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology (1930-33)
    Teacher: Physics, California Institute of Technology (1933-39)
    Professor: Physics, California Institute of Technology (1939-76)

    Nobel Prize for Physics 1936 (with Victor Francis Hess)
    Elliott Cresson Medal 1937
    John Ericsson Medal 1960
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society
    National Academy of Sciences 1938
    National Research Council
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society President, 1947-48
    Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society
    Swedish Ancestry

Author of books:
The Discovery of Anti-Matter (1999, memoir; posthumous)


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