Carl David Anderson Biography

Carl David Anderson, a renowned American physicist, is best known for his groundbreaking discovery of the positron in 1932. Born to Swedish immigrant parents, Anderson displayed a natural aptitude for science from a young age. He pursued higher education at the California Institute of Technology, where he not only obtained his academic degrees but also conducted extensive research. It was during his time at Caltech that Anderson embarked on his cosmic ray studies, ultimately leading to the momentous discovery of the positron, the first-ever antimatter particle. Anderson’s contributions to physics did not stop there, as he later made another significant breakthrough with the discovery of the muon, a subatomic particle. In recognition of his remarkable achievements, Anderson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936, along with numerous other prestigious scientific accolades.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 85
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Lorraine Bergman
    • Father: Carl David Anderson
    • Mother: Emma Adolfina Ajaxson
    • Children: Marshall and David
  • Physicists
  • American Men
  • Died on: January 11, 1991
  • Place of death: San Marino, California, USA
  • City: New York City
  • U.S. State: New York
  • Discoveries/Inventions: Discovery Of The Positron, Discovery Of The Muon
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Physics (1936), Elliott Cresson Medal (1937)

Childhood & Early Life

Carl David Anderson was born to Swedish immigrant parents, Carl David Anderson and Emma Adolfina Ajaxson, in New York City on September 3, 1905. He completed his preliminary education from Los Angeles Polytechnic High School and later enrolled at the California Institute of Technology. He graduated in 1927 with a BSc degree in Physics and Engineering. Three years later, he was awarded a PhD degree for his thesis on the space distribution of photoelectrons ejected from various gases by X-rays.


After completing his doctoral studies, Anderson worked as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1933. During this time, he began cosmic ray studies with Professor Robert Millikan. In 1932, Anderson discovered unexpected particle tracks in his cloud chamber, which he correctly interpreted as being created by a particle with the same mass as the electron but with opposite electrical charge. This discovery, validated by the theories of Paul Dirac, led to the discovery of the existence of the positron, the first particle of antimatter to be discovered.

In 1933, Anderson became an Assistant Professor of Physics and later a Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. In 1936, he and Dr. Neddermeyer discovered the muon, a subatomic particle that was 207 times more massive than the electron but had the same negative electric charge and spin 1/2 as the electron. Anderson continued his research work on radiation and fundamental particles until the end of his life, publishing most of his discoveries in ‘Physical Review’ and ‘Science’.

Awards & Achievements

In 1936, Anderson was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the positron, which he shared with Victor Franz Hess. In 1945, he received the prestigious Presidential Certificate of Merit. He was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1950 and was named Professor Emeritus at Caltech in 1976. He also received numerous other scientific awards and honors throughout his career.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1946, Anderson married Lorraine Bergman and they had two sons, Marshall and David. Lorraine passed away in 1984. Anderson died on January 11, 1991, and was buried in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. He is survived by his two children and two grandchildren.

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