Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabularies together. In today’s post, N is for:
In 1896, J.J. Thomson discovered the electron: a subatomic particle with a negative electric charge. Then in 1932, Carl Anderson discovered a new kind of electron. It was exactly the same as the old one, except it had a positive charge.
Anderson decided to name this new kind of electron a positron, and he wanted to retroactively rename the old one a negatron.
When matter and antimatter particles like these get into arguments, they always end the same way: the particles annihilate each other. Which is why it’s so important for nuclear physicists to keep matter and antimatter apart.
Anyway, under Carl Anderson’s naming scheme, we’d still get to use the word electron, but electron would be sort of like a genus name, with positron and negatron being two species of electron. That’s a nifty way to think about matter/antimatter pairs, if you ask me. Too bad the idea didn’t stick.
Or so I thought….
To my surprise, I was able to find negatron in a dictionary—a standard dictionary, not even a special dictionary of science. To my further surprise, spell-check recognizes negatron as a word. According to Google ngrams, the word is still in use, and when I did a search on Google Scholar, I found a ton of papers—recent papers—using the term in relation to nuclear physics.
So that subatomic particle pictured above—whether it likes it or not, it really is a negatron.
Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z, it’s dangerous to name a concept before you fully understand it.