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Irene Joliot-Curie

From: France
Fields: Chemistry
Key Words/Phrases: radioactivity research, Nobel Prize
Joliot-Curie, Irene (1897-1956), and Frederic (1900-58), French physicists and Nobel laureates who were husband and wife. They are best known for their study of artificial radioactivity and for their contributions toward the discovery of the neutron. Irene Curie was born on September 12, 1897, in Paris, the daughter of the French physicists Marie and Pierre Curie. She was educated at the University of Paris, and beginning in 1918 she assisted her mother at the Institute of Radium of the University of Paris. Frederic Joliot, born in Paris on March 19, 1900, was educated at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris and at the University of Paris. While assisting also at the Institute of Radium, he met Irene Curie, and they married in 1926. They subsequently worked together as a scientific team, and both assumed the name of Joliot-Curie. The Joliot-Curies specialized in the field of nuclear physics. In 1933 they made the important discovery that radioactive elements can be artificially prepared from stable elements. In their experiments they bombarded boron with alpha particles, producing a radioactive form of nitrogen. For their contribution to nuclear research the Joliot-Curies were awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in chemistry. In 1936 Irene Joliot-Curie served in the French cabinet as undersecretary of state for scientific research. She was a member of the French Atomic Energy Commission from 1946 to 1951 and director of the Institute of Radium after 1947. She became an officer of the Legion of Honor in 1939 and received many other honors for her contributions to nuclear science. Her death, on March 17, 1956, was caused by leukemia, which she contracted in the course of her work. Frederic Joliot-Curie was appointed professor of physics at the College de France and director of the Laboratoire de Synthese Atomique at Ivry in 1937. During the German occupation of Paris in World War II he was president of the Front National, the underground resistance movement in Paris university circles. In 1946 he was a French representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and was appointed high commissioner in charge of atomic-energy research in France. A member of the Communist party after 1946, he was dismissed in 1950 from his post as high commissioner because of his statement that no progressive scientist would contribute his scientific knowledge for the purpose of war against the USSR. He retained his position, however, as a member of the French National Committee for Scientific Research. In 1956 he succeeded his wife as director of the Institute of Radium. He died on August 14, 1958.

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