Nobel Prize Recipient. Carl David Anderson, an American physicist, received world-wide recognition after being awarded the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly sharing the award with Austria-born American Victor Francis Hess. Anderson received his award "for his discovery of the positron." Since 1934, he had received 37 nominations for a Nobel candidacy with five from Hess. He was 31 years old when he received the Nobel Prize. The Royal Society of London called Anderson’s discovery “one of the most momentous of the century.” Born the son of Swedish immigrants, who moved to California from New York City when he was age seven, he attended public schools. Majoring in physics and engineering, he graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1927 with a Bachelors in Science degree. He was one of two students who received a traveling six-month scholarship to tour Europe, which gave him the opportunity to visit laboratories. While still at Caltech, he was awarded in 1930 his Ph. D. degree, magna cum laude. His doctoral thesis was the results of his study of the space distribution of photoelectrons ejected from various gases by X-rays. With Professor Robert Millikan, who was his graduate advisor and 1923 Nobel Prize recipient, he began in 1930 his cosmic-ray research, which led in 1932 to the discovery of the positron and becoming a candidate for the Nobel Prize. Staying at California Institute of Technology, he started his career as a Research Fellow in 1930, promoted to assistant Professor of Physics in 1933, and in 1939 a Professor of Physics. In 1936 he, along with a graduate student, discovered the muon, which is an unstable, long-life elementary particle similar to the electron but 207 times more massive. Anderson had the experimental ability to build a superior cloud chamber, a particle detector used to visualize the passage of ionizing radiation. During World War II, he did not work on the Manhattan Project but was active with projects for the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development, mainly designing artillery rockets for the Navy. In 1944 he traveled to Normandy to observe these rockets in action. After the war, he, although not very political, joined his ten Physics Department colleagues in signing a petition against hydrogen bomb testing. Most of his research and discoveries notes have been published in “The Physical Review and Science,” a professional journal. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of New York City in 1935; the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1937; Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1945 presented by United States President Harry Truman; the John Ericsson Medal of the American Society of Swedish Engineers in 1960; and the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1975. He received honorary degrees from Colgate University in 1937, Temple University 1949, and Gustavus Adolphus College of St. Peter, Minnesota in 1963. He was a member of several scientific societies. He married in 1946, and adopted his wife’s son from her first marriage and the couple had a second son. Both sons became successful, one in computer mathematics and the other in engineering. When his mother became seriously ill at the start of World War II, he used some of his Nobel monetary prize of $20,000 for her medical care.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Carl David Anderson
Beloved Husband, Father and Grandfather
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Discoverer of the Positron