1897 - 1956

Artificial radioactivity

As the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, one of the most recognized couples in science of their time, Irène Joliot-Curie continued the oeuvre of her parents and discovered artificial radioactivity, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

Highly ambitious and intelligent, Irène graduated from high school with 16 years old and began to study Mathematics and Physics in 1914 in Sorbonne. During World War I, she actively supported her mother in building hundreds of mobile X-Ray stations to support medical aid in the field. In her early twenties, she started her research in the Institute du Radium, which was led by her mother. She obtained her doctorate on the alpha decay of highly toxic polonium five years later.

She married Frédéric Joliot, an assistant and admirer of Marie Curie, which grew to a fruitful marriage and working relationship: in 1934, the couple could verify that upon bombarding aluminium with alpha particles, radioactive substances form. This led to the discovery of artificial radioactivity, a new type of radiation. In 1935, few months after the death of Marie Curie, Fréderic and Irène were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements”.

Despite being strongly impaired after the birth of her two children and leukaemia, Irène accepted a professorship in Sorbonne next to her work in the Institute du Radium. In addition to that, she engaged herself politically in international Peace- and Womens’ Rights movements and intermittently as the state secretary of the ministry of research. She and her husband actively committed themselves to the prevention of nuclear weapons. She died in 1956 as a result of being exposed to harmful radioactivity without protection for years.

Written by: Magdalena Lederbauer.