Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Carl Anderson on how positrons got their name.

Oral history audio excerpt

Carl Anderson on how positrons got their name.

Anderson:

Well, the ambiguity or the vagueness comes from the fact that the word “electron” was such an old well-established word and was clearly the name of that particular particle — the negative electron. Nobody could change that. On the other hand, since positive electrons exist, then if they're to be called positive electrons, then the others are obviously negative electrons; but maybe if you don't put in an adjective there, the word “electron,” as is the usage today, implies a negative electron. On the other hand, if you are doing experiments in pair production or working with pair production, you like to say “pair of electrons.” This could go on and on.

Weiner:

You feel that it's sort of asymmetrical.

Anderson:

Yes, it's part Latin and part Greek — the roots of positron.

Weiner:

That's a good answer to that question, but I had another answer in mind. That is, that since pair production shows a certain type of symmetry in nature, the word itself should reflect this.

Anderson:

And the very idea of particle and anti-particle. Maybe a better word would have been “anti-electron” — electron and anti-electron. And that would have been quite consistent with present usage of these — like proton, anti-proton.