Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900 - 1958)

Frédéric Joliot-Curie
Frédéric Joliot-Curie

Jean Frédéric Joliot was born in Paris, France, on March 19, 1900. He was a graduate of the School of Chemistry and Physics in Paris. In 1925, he became an assistant to Marie Curie at the Radium Institute and fell in love with her daughter Irène Curie. He married her in 1926, and they both changed their surnames to Joliot-Curie.

He obtained his Doctor of Science degree in 1930, and became lecturer in the Paris Faculty of Science in 1935. At this time, he carried out considerable research on the structure of the atom, generally in collaboration with his wife. In particular, they worked on the projection of the nuclei, with was an essential step in the discovery of the neutron and the positron. However, their greatest discovery was artificial radioactivity. In 1935, the two received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for this important discovery.

In 1937, Joliot-Curie left the Radium Institute to become a professor at the College de France, working on chain reactions and the requirements for the successful construction of a nuclear reactor that uses controlled nuclear fission to generate energy through the use of uranium and heavy water. At the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940, Joliot managed to smuggle his working documents and materials to England. He was one of the scientists mentioned in Albert Einstein's 1939 letter to President Roosevelt as one of the leading scientists on the course to chain reactions. However, World War II stalled Joliot-Curie's research, as did his subsequent post-war administrative duties. He was on the ALSOS list, which is the Manhattan Project's military intelligence effort to capture known enemy nuclear scientists in an attempt to learn how far Germany had progressed in its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

During the French occupation, Joliot-Curie took an active part in the Resistance; he was President of the National Front and formed the French Communist Party. After the war, he served as director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and became France's first High Commissioner for Atomic Energy. In 1948, he oversaw the construction of the first French atomic reactor. A devout Communist, he was relieved of his duties in 1950 for political reasons. He was one of the 11 signatories to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in 1955. Although he retained his professorship at the College de France, on the death of his wife in 1956, he succeeded her as Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Sorbonne.

Joliot-Curie and his wife had one daughter, Helene, and one son, Pierre. He died in Paris on August 14, 1958.