She studied Physics at McGill University in Montreal, winning several prizes and scholarships that allowed her to continue studying and graduated, in 1898, at the top of her class in natural philosophy and mathematics.
She was the first graduate student of Ernest Rutherford who conducted his work on "Damping Oscillations in the Discharge of a Leyden Jar" and the first woman at McGill University to receive a master's degree, in 1901.
After obtaining the degree, and under the direction of Rutherford, he conducted a series of experiments to determine the nature of the radioactive emissions from thorium, which served as the basis for the development of nuclear science. She was one of the first to determine the atomic mass of radon, which had been discovered in 1900 by Friedrich Ernst Dorn.
Harriet Brooks, Robert Bowie Owens, and Ernest Rutherford had observed variations when trying to measure radiation from thorium oxide. Rutherford realized that thorium compounds continually emit a radioactive gas that retains radioactive powers for several minutes. This gas he first called emanation (from the Latin "Emanare"), and later thorium emanation (Th Em).
Brooks focused on the case of thorium (a solid radioactive metal), analyzing the emanations of this element. At that time there were different theories that postulated that this material was a gas, a vapor or a very fine dust. Brooks showed that it was a gas with a significantly lower molecular weight than thorium, so it could not simply be a gaseous form of the same element. His discovery led Rutherford and other scientists to the conclusion that with radioactivity, one element had been converted into another. She was the first to characterize the gas we now call radon.
In 1906, Brooks worked at the Institut Curie in Paris under the supervision of Marie Curie on the half-life of lead.
In 1907, Ernest Rutherford transferred to Victoria University in Manchester where he offered her a position in his laboratory, which she declined because she was engaged to Frank Pitcher, her laboratory instructor before graduation, and decided not to combine married life with her task. scientific.
They got married in England and returned to Montreal, where she devoted herself to the work of wife and mother to her two sons and a daughter, although she never fully disassociated herself from the university. She was honorary secretary and president of the Women's Club at the University of Montreal, and in 1910 she presented the work of Marie Curie and her colleagues to the Alumni Society of McGill University.
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