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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Katherine Austin Lathrop was a pioneer in the field of nuclear medicine and a member of the Manhattan Project.

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, Katherine Austin received a B.S. in Biology (1936), a B.S. in Physics (1939), and an M.S. in Chemistry (1939) from Oklahoma State University. There she met Clarence Lathrop, and the two married in 1938. She started her career as a research assistant at the University of Wyoming, then moved to Chicago when her husband started his M.D. at Northwestern University.

Lathrop applied to the Manhattan Project after hearing from her husband’s friend that a secret project at the University of Chicago was hiring people with scientific backgrounds. She was brought in for an interview and hired that same day. She was assigned to the Biology Division of the Metallurgical Laboratory, where she studied the uptake, retention, distribution, and excretion of radioactive materials in animals.

After the war, Lathrop stayed in Chicago, becoming an associate biochemist at Argonne National Laboratory. In 1954, she joined the faculty at the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital on the University of Chicago campus, which focused on the study of radioactive materials in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. There she began a partnership with Dr. Paul Harper. The two helped introduce technetium-99m into clinical practice, producing the first brain scan with the radioactive isotope in 1961. Technetium-99m has since become one of the most widely used radioactive isotopes in the field of medicine. Lathrop and Harper also developed a commercial method for producing iodine-125. After becoming a professor emerita in radiology at the University of Chicago in 1985, Lathrop continued her research. She retired in 2000.

Lathrop died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on March 10, 2005. 

For more information on Katherine Lathrop and her work with Paul Harper, see their oral history with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Katherine A. Lathrop's Timeline
1915 Jun 16th Born in Lawton, Oklahoma.
1936 Received B.S. in Biology from Oklahoma State University.
1939 Received B.S. in Physics from Oklahoma State University.
1939 Received M.S. in Chemistry from Oklahoma State University.
19451946 Worked for the Manhattan Project at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago.
19471954 Associate biochemist at Argonne National Laboratory.
1954 Joined the faculty of the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital.
1961 First brain scan using technetium-99m.
1985 Became professor emerita in Radiology at the University of Chicago.
2000 Retired from the University of Chicago.
2005 Mar 10th Died in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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