Carl D. Anderson Biography

Scientist, Physicist (1905–1991)
Carl D. Anderson and Victor Francis Hess received the 1936 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering the positron, or the positively charged electron.


Carl D. Anderson was born on September 3, 1905, in New York City. In 1930, he graduated with a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Anderson studied X-ray photoelectrons, later studying gamma rays and cosmic rays. He and Victor Francis Hess received a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1936 for discovering positrons, positively charged particles the same size as electrons. Anderson died in San Marino, California, on January 11, 1991.

Early Life and Studies

Physicist Carl David Anderson, generally known as Carl D. Anderson, was born in New York City on September 3, 1905. Anderson's parents were Swedish immigrants. He was named after his father.

Anderson moved to California at a young age. There, he attended Los Angeles Polytechnic High School and the California Institute of Technology. In college, Anderson was able to pursue his interest in physics. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1927, then remained at Caltech to pursue a graduate degree.

As a graduate student, Anderson studied under Robert A. Millikan. Millikan had won the 1923 Nobel Prize, which had been awarded "for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect." After completing his doctorate in 1930, Anderson continued to work with Millikan at Caltech.

Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist

In the early 1930s, Anderson began to study cosmic rays by taking photographs of cosmic ray particles inside a cloud chamber. It was through this endeavor that he discovered the positron, or positive electron, in 1932. The discovery was an important advancement for physics, as the positron was the first particle of antimatter to be identified. Working with Seth Neddermeyer, Anderson later discovered the muon, another subatomic particle.

Anderson's positron discovery led to his receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936. Anderson was only 31 years old when he was awarded this important honor. He shared the Nobel Prize with Victor Franz Hess, who had discovered cosmic radiation. After receiving the award, Anderson continued to work at Caltech. He became a full professor at the school a few years later.

Later Years

During World War II, Anderson offered his expertise to an artillery rocket project for the U.S. Navy. According to William H. Pickering, who wrote a biographical memoir of Anderson for the National Academy of Sciences, Anderson even visited France to observe how the rockets fared in a real combat situation. After the war, Anderson married Lorraine Bergman.

Anderson had a long, distinguished career, all of which he spent at Caltech. In addition to his Nobel Prize, he received the Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1945. He was also awarded several honorary degrees. In 1976, Anderson was named a professor emeritus at Caltech.

Anderson died at the age of 85 on January 11, 1991, at his home in San Marino, California. His wife had passed away in 1984, but he was survived by two sons and two grandchildren.

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