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When was antimatter first used? Who was the person that used it?

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The term or the substance? –  oosterwal Mar 11 '11 at 22:01
@oosterwal: Asking about the substance would not be something I would do here. I wrote antimatter (in italics), which means I am referring to the word. –  kiamlaluno Mar 12 '11 at 0:47
@Oost Does it really matter? ;) –  mplungjan Mar 15 '11 at 10:44
It was a play on words. Hence the well-known emoticon ;) which suggests the statement before it is tongue-in-cheek and is not to be taken seriously. –  mplungjan May 31 '11 at 6:21
Well up above the tropostrata // There is a region stark and stellar // Where, on a streak of anti-matter // Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller. ---Harold P. Furth –  Peter Shor Nov 24 '11 at 13:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

1898, Arthur Schuster

Schuster is credited with coining the concept of "antimatter" in two letters to Nature in 1898. He hypothesized antiatoms, and whole antimatter solar systems, which would yield energy if the atoms combined with atoms of normal matter. His hypothesis was given a mathematical foundation by the work of Paul Dirac in 1928, which predicted antiparticles and later led to their discovery.

Here's a scan of his letter, headed Potential Matter.—A Holiday Dream, which was published and referred to in several other 1898 publications.

Here's a couple of pertinent snippets from his letter:

antimatter snippet


antimatter snippet

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+1 for the frog –  Matt Эллен Nov 24 '11 at 13:19
Nice find! If you read Schuster's letter, his anti-matter behaves quite differently from Dirac's--unlike Dirac's, Schuster's anti-proton and proton would not annihilate when brought together, and Schuster's matter and anti-matter repel each other gravitationally. It's not clear whether Dirac had seen Schuster's letter when he coined the name "anti-electron"; it's a fairly natural construction in English. –  Peter Shor Nov 24 '11 at 13:29
+1, very nice.. –  Unreason Nov 24 '11 at 14:28

Doing a little research in Google books, Dirac in 1931 wrote "We may call such a particle an anti-electron," in his paper "Quantized singularities in the electromagnetic field." However once the anti-electron was actually discovered in 1932, naming rights went to Carl Anderson, the experimentalist who first observed them, and so Dirac started calling it a positron.

The prefix "anti-" used in this context seems to have disappeared for awhile, but reappeared in the years 1937-1939 when we see references to anti-neutrinos and anti-particles (hyphenated at first), and the terminology seems relatively common in the scientific literature by the early 1940's. The first time I can actually find the word anti-matter used in this context is in the 1948 book Cosmic rays and nuclear physics by the physicist Lajos Jánossy, where Google books gives me the snippet view

The other type of matter might be called the "anti matter." In collision the two types of matter would annihilate each other and give rise to intense radiation.

The context suggests that this may actually be the first use for this meaning.

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Note that the only antiparticle that has its own name is the positron. From the New World Encyclopedia "In 1932, positrons were observed by Carl D. Anderson, who gave the positron its name." So once antineutrino stuck as a name, antiparticle, antimatter, and so on were probably all inevitable. (Although from the citations I found in Google books, it's not clear whether antiparticle or antineutrino came first). –  Peter Shor Mar 12 '11 at 12:47

The history of antimatter begins in 1928 with a young physicist named Paul Dirac and a strange mathematical equation…

The equation, in some way, predicted the existence of an antiworld identical to ours but made out of antimatter. Was this possible? if so, where and how could we search for antimatter? — http://www.google.com/search?q=antimatter+etymology+history

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Looking in my copy of Dirac's quantum mechanics book (second edition; 1935), he discusses the positron, and indeed calls it a positron, showing he clearly knows about antiparticles and antimatter, but he never uses the prefix anti- in this context. So the question remains of who first used anti- in this context, i.e., anti-electron, antiparticle, antimatter, ...? –  Peter Shor Mar 11 '11 at 23:57
The first edition of Dirac's book (1930) predates the discovery and naming of the positron by Carl Anderson, so it is likely he called it something else in this edition. What? Since there are no searchable copies on the web, and this edition sells for over $1000, I'm not likely to be able to answer this question any time soon. –  Peter Shor May 12 '11 at 18:31
According to the book The Quantum Story, by Jim Baggott, Dirac didn't actually properly formulate his theory which predicted electrons/anti-electrons until 1931, so the 1931 citation in my answer is likely the first use of the word anti-electron. When Anderson discovered the positron in 1932, Anderson got naming rights, and Dirac stopped using anti-electron. –  Peter Shor Jul 14 '11 at 18:58
@PeterShor I found an 1898 anti-matter via Google Books. –  Hugo Nov 24 '11 at 13:18

Looks like it really started to be used in the middle of 1950s.


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