Irène Joliot-Curie (1897 - 1956)

Frédéric Joliot-Curie
Irène Curie

Irène Curie was born in Paris, France, on September 12, 1897. The daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie, she studied at the Faculty of Science at the Sorbonne, but her education was interrupted by World War I, during which she served as a nurse radiographer. After the war, she earned her doctorate in science, doing her thesis on the alpha rays of polonium.

In 1926, Curie married Frédéric Joliot (the couple both joined their surnames) and collaborated with him on natural and artificial radioactivity, transmutation of elements and nuclear physics. In 1935, they shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements. In 1936, she was appointed Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research and was ultimately named an Officer of the Legion of Honour.

A member of several foreign academies and of numerous scientific societies, Joliot-Curie had honorary doctor's degrees from several universities. She was the Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Sorbonne. She became Professor in the Faculty of Science in Paris in 1937. She was a member of the Comite National de l'Union des Femmes Francaises and of the World Peace Council. In 1938, her research on the action of neutrons on the heavy elements was an important step in the discovery of nuclear fission.

In 1946, she became the Director of the Radium Institute. As Commissioner for Atomic Energy for six years, Joliot-Curie took part in its creation and in the construction of the first French atomic pile in 1948. She was involved in the inauguration of the large center for nuclear physics at Orsay, for which she worked out the plans. Her husband continued construction of the center after her death in Paris on March 17, 1956. She died from leukemia contracted in the course of her work. The Joliot-Curies had one daughter, Helene, and one son, Pierre.