Harriet Brooks (1876 – 1933)

Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks was Canada’s first female nuclear physicist. A pioneering researcher on nuclear transmutation and radioactivity, she was among the first people to discover radon in 1901. Brooks was born in Exeter, Ontario, and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and natural philosophy from McGill University in 1898. She did graduate work with Sir Ernest Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics, and was a key contributor to his theory on radioactive decay, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. In 1901, Brooks was the first woman to receive a master’s degree at McGill, after which she accepted fellowships at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Cambridge and carried out her own experiments on radioactive emissions, which served in the development of nuclear science. Brooks also travelled and worked with Nobel laureates J.J. Thomson and Marie Curie for short periods. She served on the faculty of New York’s Barnard College from 1904 to 1907, when she married and retired from professional life.

“It is a duty I owe to my profession and to my sex to show that a woman has the right to the practice of her profession and cannot be condemned to abandon it merely because she marries.”

Page details

Date modified: