Irene Joliot-Curie was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize forchemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date. Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.
Joliot-Curie and her husband Frédéric combined their research interests on the study of atomic nuclei. In 1934 they made the discovery that sealed their place in scientific history. Building on the work of Marie and Pierre, who had isolated naturally occurring radioactive elements Joliot-Curies realized the alchemist’s dream of turning one element into another.
By now the application of radioactive materials for use in medicine was growing and this discovery led to an ability to create radioactive materials quickly, cheaply and plentifully. The Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 brought with it fame and recognition from the scientific community and Joliot-Curie was awarded a professorship at the Faculty of Science.
Irene Joliot-Curie was appointed Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research by the French government, in which capacity she helped in founding the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
Joliot-Curie became actively involved in promoting women’s education, serving on the National Committee of the Union of French Women and the World Peace Council. Joliot-Curies were given memberships to the French Légion d’honneur; Irène as an officer and Frédéric as a commissioner, recognising his earlier work for the resistance.
The years of working so closely with such deadly materials finally caught up with Joliot-Curie and she was diagnosed with leukemia. She had been accidentally exposed to polonium when a sealed capsule of the element exploded on her laboratory bench in 1946.