Brooks, Matilda M.

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Brooks, Matilda M.

American biologist who discovered an antidote for cyanide and carbon monoxide poisoning. Born Matilda Moldenhauer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; daughter of Rudolph and Selma (Neuffer) Moldenhauer; graduated from Girls' High School, Philadelphia; granted B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Pittsburgh; granted Ph.D. from Harvard University, 1920; married Sumner Cushing Brooks (a zoologist), 1917.

During a career working with oxidation reductions in living cells, Matilda Brooks discovered that methylene blue acted as a treatment in both cyanide and carbon monoxide poisoning. Methylene blue was first used in 1933 to save a young man who had dosed himself with cyanide of potassium in order to commit suicide.

After emerging from a painfully shy period as a teenager, Brooks received her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1920. She worked as a biologist for the U.S. Public Health Service before her appointment as a research biologist at the University of California, where her husband was also employed as a zoology professor. At the time (1927), husbands and wives were not allowed to both hold salaried positions on the university faculty, so Brooks did not receive pay for her research work, though her expenses were reimbursed and her assistants paid. Under a grant from the National Academy of Sciences, she did research in Bermuda and the South Seas, and in 1930 received a grant from the National Research Council at Naples. When her husband was ill in 1934, and again in 1936, she closed her laboratory and took over his courses at the university.

Brooks and her husband made their permanent home in California but summered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where Matilda was a member of the corporation of the Marine Biological Laboratory. The couple also traveled extensively, including one trip around the world. Brooks, though a formidable scientist, had a variety of other interests, including gardening, music, and painting. She thrived on furniture auctions and was a member of the Sierra Club, a California mountain climbing society.

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Brooks, Matilda M.

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