Positron

Positron

Overview
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 or the antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 counterpart of the electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

. The positron has an electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 of +1e, a spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 of ½, and has the same mass as an electron. When a low-energy positron collides with a low-energy electron, annihilation
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

 occurs, resulting in the production of two or more gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s (see electron-positron annihilation
Electron-positron annihilation
Electron–positron annihilation occurs when an electron and a positron collide. The result of the collision is the annihilation of the electron and positron, and the creation of gamma ray photons or, at higher energies, other particles:...

).

Positrons may be generated by positron emission
Positron emission
Positron emission or beta plus decay is a type of beta decay in which a proton is converted, via the weak force, to a neutron, releasing a positron and a neutrino....

 radioactive decay (through weak interaction
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

s), or by pair production
Pair production
Pair production refers to the creation of an elementary particle and its antiparticle, usually from a photon . For example an electron and its antiparticle, the positron, may be created...

 from a sufficiently energetic photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

.

In 1928, Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics...

 published a paper proposing that electrons have both a positive charge and negative energy.
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Encyclopedia
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 or the antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 counterpart of the electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

. The positron has an electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 of +1e, a spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 of ½, and has the same mass as an electron. When a low-energy positron collides with a low-energy electron, annihilation
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

 occurs, resulting in the production of two or more gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s (see electron-positron annihilation
Electron-positron annihilation
Electron–positron annihilation occurs when an electron and a positron collide. The result of the collision is the annihilation of the electron and positron, and the creation of gamma ray photons or, at higher energies, other particles:...

).

Positrons may be generated by positron emission
Positron emission
Positron emission or beta plus decay is a type of beta decay in which a proton is converted, via the weak force, to a neutron, releasing a positron and a neutrino....

 radioactive decay (through weak interaction
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

s), or by pair production
Pair production
Pair production refers to the creation of an elementary particle and its antiparticle, usually from a photon . For example an electron and its antiparticle, the positron, may be created...

 from a sufficiently energetic photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

.

Theoretical foreshadowing and prediction


In 1928, Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics...

 published a paper proposing that electrons have both a positive charge and negative energy. This paper introduced the Dirac equation
Dirac equation
The Dirac equation is a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation formulated by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. It provided a description of elementary spin-½ particles, such as electrons, consistent with both the principles of quantum mechanics and the theory of special relativity, and...

, a unification of quantum mechanics, special relativity
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

, and the then-new concept of electron spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 to explain the Zeeman effect
Zeeman effect
The Zeeman effect is the splitting of a spectral line into several components in the presence of a static magnetic field. It is analogous to the Stark effect, the splitting of a spectral line into several components in the presence of an electric field...

. The paper did not explicitly predict a new particle, but did allow for electrons having either positive or negative energy as solutions. The positive-energy solution explained experimental results, but Dirac was puzzled by the equally valid negative-energy solution that the mathematical model allowed. Quantum mechanics did not allow the negative energy solution to simply be ignored, as classical mechanics often did in such equations; the dual solution implied the possibility of an electron spontaneously jumping between positive and negative energy states. However, no such transition had yet been observed experimentally. He referred to the issues raised by this conflict between theory and observation as "difficulties" that were "unresolved".

Dirac wrote a follow-up paper in December 1929 that attempted to explain the unavoidable negative-energy solution for the relativistic electron. He argued that "... an electron with negative energy moves in an external [electromagnetic] field as though it carries a positive charge." He further asserted that all of space could be regarded as a "sea" of negative energy states
Dirac sea
The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy. It was first postulated by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 to explain the anomalous negative-energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation for relativistic electrons...

 that were filled, so as to prevent electrons jumping between positive energy states (negative electric charge) and negative energy states (positive charge). The paper also explored the possibility of the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 being an island in this sea, and that it might actually be a negative-energy electron. Dirac acknowledged that the proton having a much greater mass than the electron was a problem, but expressed "hope" that a future theory would resolve the issue.

Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with Enrico Fermi, he is often called the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II project that developed the first...

 argued strongly against the proton being the negative-energy electron solution to Dirac's equation. He asserted that if it were, the hydrogen atom would rapidly self-destruct. Persuaded by Oppenheimer's argument, Dirac published a paper in 1931 that predicted the existence of an as-yet unobserved particle that he called an "anti-electron" that would have the same mass as an electron and that would mutually annihilate upon contact with an electron.

Experimental clues and discovery



Dmitri Skobeltsyn
Dmitri Skobeltsyn
Dmitri Vladimirovich Skobeltsyn was a Soviet physisist, academician of the Soviet Academy of Sciences , Hero of Socialist Labor ....

 first observed the positron in 1929. While using a Wilson cloud chamber
Cloud chamber
The cloud chamber, also known as the Wilson chamber, is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. In its most basic form, a cloud chamber is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it...

 to try to detect gamma radiation
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 in cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s, Skobeltsyn detected particles that acted like electrons but curved in the opposite direction in an applied magnetic field.

Likewise, in 1929 Chung-Yao Chao
Chung-Yao Chao
Chung-Yao Chao was a Chinese physicist. Chung-Yao Chao studied the scattering of gamma rays in lead by pair production in 1930, without knowing that positrons were involved in the anomalously high scattering cross-section...

, a graduate student at Caltech, noticed some anomalous results that indicated particles behaving like electrons, but with a positive charge, though the results were inconclusive and the phenomenon was not pursued.

Carl D. Anderson discovered the positron on August 2, 1932, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1936. Anderson also coined the term positron. The positron was the first evidence of antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 and was discovered when Anderson allowed cosmic rays to pass through a cloud chamber and a lead plate. A magnet surrounded this apparatus, causing particles to bend in different directions based on their electric charge. The ion trail left by each positron appeared on the photographic plate with a curvature matching the mass-to-charge ratio
Mass-to-charge ratio
The mass-to-charge ratio ratio is a physical quantity that is widely used in the electrodynamics of charged particles, e.g. in electron optics and ion optics. It appears in the scientific fields of lithography, electron microscopy, cathode ray tubes, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, Auger...

 of an electron, but in a direction that showed its charge was positive.

Anderson wrote in retrospect that the positron could have been discovered earlier based on Chung-Yao Chao's work, if only it had been followed up. The Joliot-Curies in Paris had evidence of positrons in old photographs when Anderson's results came out but they had dismissed them as protons.

Production


New research has dramatically increased the quantity of positrons that experimentalists can produce. Physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory , just outside Livermore, California, is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center founded by the University of California in 1952...

 in California have used a short, ultra-intense laser to irradiate a millimetre-thick gold target and produce more than 100 billion positrons.

Applications


Certain kinds of particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

 experiments involve colliding positrons and electrons at relativistic speeds. The high impact energy and the mutual annihilation of these matter/antimatter opposites create a fountain of diverse subatomic particles. Physicists study the results of these collisions to test theoretical predictions and to search for new kinds of particles.

Gamma rays, emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide (tracer), are detected in positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography is nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide , which is introduced into the body on a...

 (PET) scanners used in hospitals. PET scanners create detailed three-dimensional images of metabolic activity within the human body.

An experimental tool called positron annihilation spectroscopy
Positron annihilation spectroscopy
Positron annihilation spectroscopy or sometimes specifically referred to as Positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy is a non-destructive spectroscopy technique to study voids and defects in solids....

 (PAS) is used in materials research to detect variations in density, defects, displacements, or even voids, within a solid material.

See also

  • Beta particle
    Beta particle
    Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

  • Radioactive decay
    Radioactive decay
    Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

  • List of particles
  • Positron emission tomography
    Positron emission tomography
    Positron emission tomography is nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide , which is introduced into the body on a...

  • Positronium
    Positronium
    Positronium is a system consisting of an electron and its anti-particle, a positron, bound together into an "exotic atom". Being unstable, the two particles annihilate each other to produce two gamma ray photons after an average lifetime of 125 ps or three gamma ray photons after 142 ns in...

  • Proton
    Proton
    The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

  • Positronic brain
    Positronic brain
    A positronic brain is a fictional technological device, originally conceived by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Its role is to serve as a central computer for a robot, and, in some unspecified way, to provide it with a form of consciousness recognizable to humans...


External links