Irene Joliot-Curie

Irene Joliot-Curie

Irene Joliot-Curie is one name that is always mentioned when we discuss the discovery of radioactivity and neutron. She was a French physicist who along with her husband Joliot-Curie, a well-known French physicist, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their synthesis of new radioactive elements.

Early life, Education and Career:

Irène Joliot-Curie was born on 12 September 1897, in Paris. She was the daughter of the French physicists, Marie Sk?odowska-Curie and Pierre Curie. For a few years of her childhood Irene was educated by her mother, but later completed her studies at the University of Paris. Beginning in 1918 she assisted her mother at the Institute of Radium of the University of Paris while studying for her own doctoral degree. In 1925 she graduated with a thesis on the alpha rays of polonium. The same year she met Frédéric Joliot, assisting also at the Institute of Radium. The following year they both got married and took the name of Joliot-Curie. They had two children; one daughter, Helene and one son, Pierre.

Subsequent to their marriage the Joliot-Curies formed a great scientific team. Irene’s scientific research focused on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics. During 1926 – 1928 she helped her husband in improving his laboratory techniques. Starting in 1928 Irène and Frédéric carried out their research on the study of atomic nuclei and published together.

Together they specialized in the field of nuclear physics. In 1934 their combined work led to the discovery of artificial radioactivity. By bombarding boron, aluminum, and magnesium with alpha particles, the Joliot-Curies produced isotopes of the generally stable elements nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon and aluminum that decompose spontaneously, with a more or less long period, by release of positive or negative electrons. For this work they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935. Irene would not stop there, however, and went on to accomplish many other honors.

During 1936 she served in the French Cabinet as Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research. In 1937 she was appointed as a Professor in the Faculty of Science in Paris, and in the following year her research on the heavy elements played a vital role in the discovery of uranium fission. In 1939 Irene was employed as an Officer of the Legion of Honor. From 1946 – 1951 she was a member of the French Atomic Energy Commission. After 1947 she served as the Director of the Institute of Radium, and in 1948 she contributed to the creation of the first French atomic pile.

Irene Joliot-Curie had a great interest in the intellectual development of women, and therefore served as the members of the Comite National de l’Union des Femmes Francais, and the World Peace Council. Moreover she was also very concerned with the installation of a large center for nuclear physics at Orsay, and she personally worked out the plans for its construction. Her work on this facility would be carried on by her husband after her death.


Irene Joliot-Curie died on 17 March 1956, in Paris, from leukemia contracted in the course of her work.