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Biography

Irene Curie as a child with her mother and sister Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Irene Curie as a child with her mother and sister Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Irene Joliot-Curie was born in 1987 in Paris, France. (Nuclear Files) Her parents were none other than the world famous scientists Pierre and Marie Curie, both Nobel Prize winners. (Joliot-Curie) Like her parents Irene had been interested in the sciences from a young age, and was actually home schooled by her parents friends who were all Nobel Prize winners. (Wilson, 2011) Irene literally grew up in a world surrounded by radioactivity and decided to devote herself to its study. (Joliot-Curie)

 

Irene attended the College Sevigne and graduated in 1914. She then started her Doctorate Studies at the University of Paris. (Nuclear Files) She was unable to start right away due to the War waging in Europe, so she accompanied her mother in hospital tents as a nurse and used “primitive X-ray machines” in order to locate pieces of bombs and bullets in wounded soldiers until 1917. (Wilson, 2011) She then returned to the University of Paris and continued her Doctorate work, which she completed in 1925. During this time she also helped assisted her mother in the Radium Institute, there she met her future husband Frederic Joliot. The two were married in 1926, and continued to work together as partners, studying “natural and artificial radioactivity and the transmutation of elements.” (Nuclear Files)

 

In 1934 Irene, Frederic and their team “generated the first artificial radioactivity from stable elements.” They used “alpha particles to bombard aluminum foil and boron in separate experiments” and “produced a radioactive phosphorous from the aluminum and radioactive form of nitrogen from the boron.” (Nuclear Files) They were able to transfer these elements from one to another. In 1935 the team received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this discovery, although it still was unstable. (CWP)

 

Irene and her mother Marie Curie working at a hospital in Belgium in 1915 Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Irene and her mother Marie Curie working at a hospital in Belgium in 1915 Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Europe was on the brink of war in 1936 and Irene had just been appointed the Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research. (Nuclear Files) Her and her husband were “pioneers in the research that proved nuclear fission possible.” Once Hitler invaded Poland, Irene and Frederic hid their research in a vault for the rest of the war. When France was occupied by the Germans, Irene was in Switzerland due to an illness that would later kill her, she remained there for the rest of the war, except for once when she return to France to smuggle her children back into Switzerland. (Wilson, 2011)

 

After the war ended Irene became the director of the Radium Institute in 1946. (Nuclear Files) In that same year she also became the director at the French Atomic Energy Commission. (CWP) There her and her husband helped to establish the first atomic pile in France. In 1951 Irene and Frederic were kicked out of the French Atomic Energy Commission due to their membership in the French Communist Party, which Frederic had founded. (Nuclear Files)

 

Irene Curie and Frederic Joliot in 1935 at the Radium Institute Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Irene Curie and Frederic Joliot in 1935 at the Radium Institute Copyright © Association Curie Joliot-Curie

Like her mother before her, Irene’s passion and life’s work was the thing that killed her. On March 17th, 1956 Irene Joliot Curie died in Paris of leukemia, which had been brought on by an exposure to radioactive elements throughout her life. (Nuclear Files)

 

Other accomplishments of her life include, working for women’s suffrage, being a part of the French Resistance during World War II and being a member of the World Peace Council. (CWP)

 

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