Making Nobel prizes a family tradition: IRÈNE JOLIOT-CURIE AND THE CURIES
Irène Joliot-Curie was a battlefield radiologist, activist, and politician born in Paris in 1897 to the famous Marie and Pierre Curie. An intelligent woman, Irène followed in her parents’ footsteps and went on to become an esteemed scientist in her own right.
After marrying Frédéric Joliot in 1926, the husband-wife-team began signing their research work jointly. Irène was to focus on the chemical aspects whilst Frédéric focused on the physical. Like her parents before, Irène went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with her husband in 1935 for the discovery of artificial radioactivity.
She discovered how to synthesize designer radioactive elements in the laboratory, which has resulted in millions of lives being saved. This discovery, which contributed to Irène winning the Nobel Prize, is now used in tens of millions of medical procedures every year.
Sadly years of working so closely with radioactive materials finally caught up with Joliot-Curie and she was diagnosed with leukaemia, after being accidentally exposed to polonium when a sealed capsule of the element exploded on her laboratory bench in 1946. Treatment with antibiotics and a series of operations relieved her suffering temporarily, but her condition continued to deteriorate. Despite this, Joliot-Curie continued to work with great focus and determination and in 1955 drew up plans for new physics laboratories at the University d’Orsay, south of Paris.
Carrying on the family tradition into the future, Joliot-Curie’s daughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, became a nuclear physicist and professor at the University of Paris, and her son, Pierre Joliot, a biochemist at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.