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

  • The term or the substance?
    – oosterwal
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 22:01
  • 1
    @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.
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 12, 2011 at 0:47
  • 4
    @Oost Does it really matter? ;)
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 10:44
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 31, 2011 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 Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 13:50

4 Answers 4


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

The atom and the anti-atom may enter into chemical com-
bination, because at small distances molecular forces would
overpower gravitational repulsions. Large tracts of space
might thus be filled unknown to us with a substance in which
gravity is practically non-existent, until by some accidental cause,
such as a meteorite flying through it, unstable equilibrium is
established, the matter collecting on one side, the anti-matter
on the other until two worlds are formed, separating from each
other, never to unite again.

Matter and anti-matter may further coexist in bodies of small
mass. Such compound mixtures flying hither and thither
though space, coming during their journey into the sphere of
influence of our sun, would exhibit a curious phenomenon.
The matter circulating in a comet's orbit, the anti-matter re-
pelled and thrown back into space, forming an appendage which
is always directed away from the sun. Has any one yet given


antimatter snippet

Astronomy, the oldest and yet most juvenile of sciences, may still
have some surprises in store. May anti-matter be commended
to its care! But I must stop -- the holidays are nearing their
end -- the British Association is looming in the distance; we
must return to sober science, and dreams must go to sleep till
next year.

Do dreams ever come true? Arthur Schuster.

  • 4
    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. Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 13:29

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). Commented Mar 12, 2011 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

  • 2
    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, ...? Commented Mar 11, 2011 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. Commented May 12, 2011 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. Commented Jul 14, 2011 at 18:58
  • @PeterShor I found an 1898 anti-matter via Google Books.
    – Hugo
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 13:18

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


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