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Nuclear Physics

Image of Irene Joliot-Curie

Irène Joliot-Curie

Additional Information

Some Important Contributions

From the obituary by James Chadwick in Nature, 177, 964 (1956):

    "Irène Joliot-Curie ... was born in the stirring days of radioactivity when her parents [Marie and Pierre Curie] were making great discoveries, she grew up with radioactivity, and all her life was devoted to its study.

    "In 1926 she married Frédéric Joliot ... and there began a collaboration of husband and wife in scientific work rivalling in productive genius even that of her parents. The most outstanding of their joint papers were published in the years 1932-1934. In the first of these, on the radiation excited in beryllium by alpha-particles, they reported a very strange effect which provided the clue to the discovery of the neutron. Then, after studying the conditions of excitation of neutrons by the impact of alpha-particles on various elements, they turned for a time to the 'materialization' of positive electrons through the action of gamma-rays of high energy. This was followed by a systematic study of the radiations emitted from the lighter chemical elements under the impact of alpha-particles, which through the light of intuition -- and good technique -- led them, in early 1934, to their beautiful discovery of artificial radioactivity. An interesting feature of this discovery is that it was so long in coming; for the phenomenon of artificial activity had been expected, and sought for, since the earliest days of radioactivity. For this discovery the Joliot-Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935.

    "About two years later ... with P. Savic, she examined in detail the artificial radioelements produced by the irradiation of uranium by slow neutrons, analysing the products and identifying them chemically, and she came within a hair's-breadth of recognizing that the phenomenon involved in the production of these elements was that of fission."

Discovered , but did not fully identify, the radioactive isotope of lanthanum with half-life of 3.5 hours which is a fission product of neutron bombardment of uranium (with P. Savitch).

Made one of the first determinations of the neutron mass (with F. Joliot-Curie) and concluded this particle would be unstable and decay to proton and electron.

Some Important Publications

"The Emission of High energy Photons from Hydrogenous Substances Irradiated with Very Penetrating Alpha Rays," Comptes Rendus 194: 273 (1932) with F. Joliot.

"Effect of Absorption of Gamma Rays of Very High Frequency by Projection of Light Nuclei," Comptes Rendus 194: 708 (1932) with F. Joliot.

"Mass of the neutron," Comptes Rendus 197: 237 (1933) and Nature 133: 721 (1934) with F. Joliot-Curie.

"Artifical production of a new kind of radio-element," Nature 133: 201 (1934) with F. Joliot-Curie; see also Comptes Rendus 198: 254 and 559 (1934).

"Radioelement of period 3.5 hours formed from uranium bombarded by neutrons," Comptes Rendus 206: 906 and 1643 (1938) with P. Savitch.


Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for the discovery of artificial radioactivity with F. Joliot-Curie.

Barnard College Gold Medal for Meritorious Service to Science 1940 with Frederic Joliot-Curie. [39A CBY]

Officer of the Legion of Honor.


1918-46 Assistant to Marie Curie, Radium Institute

1936 Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research, Léon Blum's Popular Front Government (4 months)

1946-56 Director, Radium Institute

1946-50 Director, French Atomic Energy Commission

1937-56 Professor, Sorbonne


Baccalauréat Collège Sévigné 1914

Ph.D. Sorbonne 1925

References consulted

[1 CLH], [1X N20], [5A3 DSB], [12A GKS], [15D PGA], [26 SBM], [39A CBY]

Additional Information/Comments

During WWI, with her mother, Marie Curie, ran mobile X-ray machines which traveled from camp to camp diagnosing soldiers' wounds.

"Her parents were both persons of strong and independent mind, and Mme. Joliot-Curie inherited much of their character as well as their scientific genius. She had a powerful personality, simple, direct and self-reliant. She knew her mind and spoke it, sometimes perhaps with devastating frankness; but her remarks were informed with such regard for scientific truth and with such conspicuous sincerity that they commanded the greatest respect in all circumstances. In all her work, whether in the laboratory, in discussion, or in committee, she set herself the highest standards and she was most conscientious in the fulfillment of any duties she undertook."

From the obituary by James Chadwick in Nature, 177, 964 (1956)

Irène and Frédéric signed all their papers jointly, even after she became Director of the Radium Institute.

Worked for women's suffrage. [1X N20]

Both Irène and Frédéric were part of the French Resistance during WWII. [26 SBM]

The Nazis requisitioned her equipment after the fall of France, but it was all placed at her disposal in November 1940. [39A CBY]

Member of the World Peace Council. [1X N20]

Irène and Frédéric had a daughter, Helene, and a son, Pierre.

Field Editors:

N. Byers and S. A. M. Moszkowski


Copyright © CWP and Regents of the University of California 1996

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" Joliot-Curie, Irene." CWP
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