June 2, 1876 – Birth of Harriet Brooks, the first Canadian-born nuclear physicist, known for her research on nuclear transmutations and radioactivity

Harriet Brooks

She studied Physics at Montreal's McGill University, earning several awards 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 led his work on "Damping of Oscillations in the Discharge of a Leyden Flask" and the first woman at McGill University to receive a master's degree, in 1901.

After earning his degree, and under Rutherford's direction, he conducted a series of experiments to determine the nature of radioactive emissions from thorium, which formed 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.

Variations had been observed by Harriet Brooks, Robert Bowie Owens, and Ernest Rutherford when trying to measure the radiation from thorium oxide. Rutherford realized that thorium compounds continually emit a radioactive gas that retains radioactive powers for several minutes. He first called this gas 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 powder. Brooks showed that it was a gas with a molecular weight significantly lower than that of 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 Curie Institute 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 graduating, and decided not to combine her married life with her homework. scientific.

They married in England and returned to Montreal, where she dedicated herself to the work of wife and mother of her two sons and a daughter, although she never completely separated herself from the university. She was honorary secretary and president of the Women's Club of the University of Montreal, and in 1910 she presented the work of Marie Curie and her colleagues to the McGill University Alumni Society.

If you want to know more about this scientist, click on the following link: Harriet Brooks

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