Cloud chambers, also known as Wilson cloud chambers, are particle detectors, that were essential devices in early nuclear and particle physics research. Cloud chambers, one of the most simple instruments to study elementary particles, have been substituted by more modern detectors in actual research, but they still remain very interesting pedagogical apparatus.
Cloud Chamber and Discovery of Positron
Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The original idea for antiparticles came from a relativistic wave equation developed in 1928 by the English scientist P. A. M. Dirac (1902-1984). He realised that his relativistic version of the Schrödinger wave equation for electrons predicted the possibility of antielectrons. These were discovered by Paul Dirac and Carl D. Anderson in 1932 and named positrons. They studied cosmic-ray collisions via a cloud chamber – a particle detector in which moving electrons (or positrons) leave behind trails as they move through the gas. Positron paths in a cloud chamber trace the same helical path as an electron but rotate in the opposite direction with respect to the magnetic field direction due to their having the same magnitude of charge-to-mass ratio but with opposite charge and, therefore, opposite signed charge-to-mass ratios. Although Dirac did not himself use the term antimatter, its use follows on naturally enough from antielectrons, antiprotons, etc.