Irene Joliot-Curie

Irene Joliot-Curie (1897 – 1956) was a chemist and physicist known for her work on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements, and nuclear physics.

She was born in Paris, France in 1897 to Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie. She studied chemistry at the Radium Institute and completed her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Paris. Her doctoral thesis focused on radiation emitted by polonium.

During World War I, Irene worked alongside her mother on the battlefield as a nurse radiographer. For a time, she also taught doctors how to locate shrapnel in soldiers using radiological equipment.

Alongside her husband, chemical engineer Frederic Joliot, Irene studied atomic nuclei. Together they were the first to calculate the accurate mass of the neutron and discovered that radioactive elements can be artificially produced from stable elements. The pair shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the first artificially-created radioactive atoms, which had practical applications in radiochemistry, specifically in medicine and the treatment of thyroid diseases. In addition, her research on the action of neutrons on heavy elements was an important step in the discovery of nuclear fission.

Outside of her research, Irene was the Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Sorbonne and a Professor in the Faculty of Science in Paris. Beginning in 1946 she served as the director of the Radium Institute and was instrumental in the design of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Orsay, France. She died in 1956 of leukemia, likely a result of her work with polonium-210. Her daughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot (1927-present), is a retired professor of nuclear physics and third generation of Curie women working in nuclear science.

Awards & Recognition

  • 1935 – Received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of artificial radioactivity (with Frederic Joliot-Curie)
  • 1940 – Received the Barnard Gold Medal for Meritorious Service to Science (with Frederic Joliot-Curie)
  • Was an Officer of the Legion of Honour.