Carl David Anderson

September 3, 1905–January 11, 1991


BEST KNOWN FOR HIS discovery of the positive electron, or positron, Carl David Anderson was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1936 at age thirty-one. The discovery of the positron was the first of the new particles of modern physics. Electrons and protons had been known and experimented with for about forty years, and it was assumed that these were the building blocks of all matter. With the discovery of the positron, an example of antimatter, all manner of theoretical and experimental possibilities arose. The Royal Society of London called Carl's discovery ''one of the most momentous of the century."

Born on September 3, 1905, in New York City, Carl was the only son of Swedish immigrant parents. His father, the senior Carl David Anderson, had been in the United States since 1896. When Carl was seven years old, the family left New York for Los Angeles, where Carl attended public schools and in 1923 entered the California Institute of Technology. Caltech had opened its doors in 1921 with Robert A. Millikan, himself a Nobel laureate, as chief executive. Together with chemist Arthur A. Noyes and astronomer George Ellery Hale, Millikan established the high standard of excellence and the small student body that today continues to characterize Caltech.

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