Irène Joliot-Curie

Co-discovered the first artificially created Radioactive Atoms

Who is Irène Joliot-Curie?

Iréne was born in Paris, France on September 12, 1897, and she died from Leukemia on March 17, 1956.

A French chemist and physicist who had a major impact on the field of chemistry, Iréne was awarded (jointly with her husband) the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. She was the daughter of Marie Curie and contributed to the astonishing record for the most Nobel Prizes in one family at five (5). She and her husband Joliot were the second married couple to win the Nobel Prize, with her parents being the first.


Her Early Life and Education

Although Iréne was the daughter of Madame Curie, her parents were working long hours in the lab and she was actually raised primarily by her grandfather Eugene, her father’s father, especially after her father died when she was eight. Eugene raised her to be inquisitive and instilled in her a love of nature and politics, although he died when she was only 12 years old. When Marie took over her daughter’s education, she wasn’t happy with the local schools. So she and some of her friends decided to essentially homeschool their children together, and what a set of teachers they were!  Marie Curie taught physics, Jean Baptiste Perrin (Nobel Prize winner in Physics) taught chemistry, and Paul Langevin (award-winning physicist) taught mathematics.

Iréne Curie later studied at the Faculty of Science in Paris, France. During WWI, she worked as a Nurse Radiochemist and then continued her studies afterward to become a Doctor of Science in 1925. Her thesis was on the alpha rays of polonium.

Her Contributions to Science

Iréne’s contributions to Chemistry included finding the first artificially-created radioactive atoms.  This ability changed the course of modern Physics forever. Although this breakthrough ended up being crucial in the fight against cancer, Irene ended up dying from Leukemia at 49 years old. She and her husband also did experiments that essentially discovered the positron and the neutron, but didn’t realize it at the time.

Irene made another important contribution related to WWI, when she and her mother pioneered the use of field X-Ray machines to help diagnose soldiers’ war injuries, thereby saving thousands of lives.

Irène Joliot-Curie’s Legacy

Irene’s legacy lives on, not only in cancer research but in her political legacy. She was one of six commissioners of the French Alternative Energies and the Atomic Energy Commission. It should be noted that the very thing that her discovery has helped to cure, Cancer, is what killed her in the end. Her prolonged exposure to Polonium caused her death at 49 years old.

Learn more about Irene Joliot-Curie from The Nobel Prize Organization

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