Irène Joliot-Curie


Born: Sep 12 1897 in Paris, France
Died: Mar 17 1956 (at age 58) in Paris, France
Nationality: French
Field: Chemistry
Famous For: Joint discovery of artificial radioactivity with Frederic Joliot-Curie
Awards: Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1935)

Irène Joliot-Curie was born on September 12th, 1897 in Paris, France. She was the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie who were also famous scientists. Irène was home schooled through most of her youth. The Curies had formed a cooperative with other scientist to teach their children as a group. After studying for two years in the cooperative she enrolled at the Collège Sévigné. She then moved on to join the University of Paris studying in the faculty of science. However, in 1914, her studies were interrupted by the onset of the WWI. She then joined her mother in developing wartime radiological labs at the Radium Institute. After the war she continued her studies and earned a doctorate in science. Here she presented a paper on the alpha rays of polonium, an element discovered by her parents.

Career and Social Life

While at the Radium institute in 1924 she was assigned to teach radiology techniques to Jean Frédéric Joliot. Jean was a young scientist at the institute. In 1926 Irène married Jean Frédéric Joliot and the two combined their surnames. She collaborated with him in many fields such as nuclear physics, natural and artificial radioactivity and transmutation of elements. In 1934 they advanced their studies in the transmutation of elements and in 1935 they received a joint award for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Otto Hahn Friedrich Wilhelm and Lise Meitner used this new discovery to develop a chain of reactions that lead to the making of the atomic bomb. Irène Joliot moved on and was appointed the Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research in 1936 and she eventually became the officer of Legion of Honor.

Further Achievements

Joliot was a member of quite a number of foreign academies and several scientific societies. Due to this she received several honorary doctorate degrees from different universities. She even held a position as the Chair of Nuclear Physics at Sorbonne. In 1937 she became a professor in the faculty of science. Curie was also a member of the World Peace Council and the Comite National de l’Union des Femmes Francaises. In 1938 she researched the action of neutrons on heavy metals which was an important step towards the discovery of nuclear fusion.

She rose to become the director of the Radium Institute in 1946. Joliot also held a position as Commissioner for Atomic Energy for six years. She participated in the creation and construction of the 1st atomic pile in 1948. When the Joliot-Curies discovered how the military was using their work, they wrote letters to the French Academy of Sciences in protest of this.

Sickness and Death

Irène, just like her mother, was heavily exposed to radiation. She developed Leukemia and died at the age of 58 in 1956. She left behind two children. Her son, Pierre, became a biochemist and her daughter, Helen, who became a physicist.