STEM Super Heroes – Harriet Brooks

Hello STEM lovers! Shall we learn more about the importance of STEM today? It is the last Friday of the month again and that means it’s time to introduce you to another STEM Super Hero, Harriet Brooks! The STEM Super Hero series is a chance to talk about some incredible individuals. Real life super heroes who used their superpowers to make a difference in the world.

We encourage you to share these STEM Super Hero stories with you children.  We want to inspire children to one day make a difference in the world of STEM as well.

Check our themes and Activities page to learn about Super Heroes Week.

Harriet Brooks

Today’s STEM Super Hero has made some amazing achievements in the field of physics. Her name is Harriet Brooks and she was the first Canadian female nuclear physicist. Brooks is most famous for her research on nuclear transmutations and radioactivity. She was also among the first people to discover radon and attempted to determine its atomic mass.

Brooks attended McGill University in 1894 and graduated from with an honours B.A. in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1898. In 1901, Brooks obtained a fellowship to study for her doctorate of physics at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. While she was there she won the prestigious Bryn Mawr European Fellowship. Brooks took this fellowship in a lab at the University of Cambridge. It’s where she became the first woman to study at the Cavendish Laboratory.

Ernest Rutherford, who was her advisor, would say that she could be compared to Marie Curie for her aptitude. She left the scientific community at her peak when she got married. According to Geoff Rayner-Canham, a chemistry professor at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, “What happened was that she got engaged to a physicist at Barnard College, which is an old women’s college in the States, and she told the dean she was planning to marry. The dean sent a letter back saying that she was not willing to have anyone in the department who put her work second, but didn’t think it was appropriate for a married woman to put her career before her family.”

Although we know how challenging it can be, we believe that it is absolutely possible to have a bright career and a family life. We cheer and deeply admire those who achieve it! Nothing should stop brilliant women from developing their full potential.


Brooks made important contributions to physics and became recognized in the 1980s for her work in the field of nuclear science. She was the first person to show that the radioactive substance emitted from thorium was a gas with a molecular weight of 40-100.

This discovery was crucial in helping researches realize that the elements undergo some transmutation in radioactive decay. Her research of radon and actinium was pioneering. Even though she had a relatively short career it was a very successful one. The Harriet Brooks Building which is nuclear research laboratory at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories was named after her. She was also introduced into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2002.

The Importance Of STEM

It’s great how these stories can show us that nothing is impossible as long as you do your best. Be sure to share these stories with your children so they can truly learn about real life superheroes. If you want your child to learn more about the importance of STEM be sure to sign them up for our camp today!

Choose the closest location to you and register HERE.


Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2019 from

C. (n.d.). Harriet Brooks’ great-great niece to inspire next generation of women in science. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from