Harriet Brooks

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Harriet Brooks
Born July 2, 1876
Exeter, Ontario
Died April 17, 1933 (aged 56)
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater McGill University
Known for Discoverer of atomic recoil
Scientific career
Fields nuclear physics
Institutions Barnard College
McGill University
Academic advisors Ernest Rutherford

Harriet Brooks (July 2, 1876 – April 17, 1933) was the first Canadian woman nuclear physicist. She is most famous for her research on nuclear transmutations and radioactivity. Ernest Rutherford, who guided her graduate work, regarded her as being next to Marie Curie in the calibre of her aptitude.


She was born in Exeter, Ontario in 1876. She graduated with B.A. in mathematics and natural philosophy from McGill University in 1898.

She was the first graduate student of Ernest Rutherford (then professor at McGill University), under whom she worked immediately after graduating. With him she worked on electricity and magnetism for her Master's degree in 1901. She was the first ever woman at McGill to receive a Master's degree.[1]

After her Master's again under Rutherford she also did a series of experiments to determine the nature of the radioactive emissions from thorium. These experiments served as the foundation for the development of nuclear science.

She was among the first persons to discover radon and to try to determine its atomic mass.

For a brief period she also worked under the supervision of Marie Curie.

In 1904 Brooks was appointed to the faculty of Barnard College.

In 1907 she married Frank Pitcher and left the field of physics since it was then mandatory in universities for any woman to resign from her job after getting married.

An obituary for Harriet Brooks was published by the New York Times on April 18, 1933, recording that she had died the previous day in Montreal at the age of 57, crediting her as the "Discoverer of the Recoil of a Radioactive Atom." Brooks is considered one of the leading women of her time in the field of nuclear physics, second only to Marie Curie. She is a member of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.[2]


  1. "Harriet Brooks". www.physics.ucla.edu. Retrieved 1999-07-22.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. "Harriet Brooks Pitcher 1876-1933". The Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 24, 2013. 

Further reading

  • Rayner-Canham, Marelene F.; Rayner-Canham, Geoffrey W. (1992). Harriet Brooks: Pioneer Nuclear Scientist. McGill-Queen’s University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1254-3. 

External links