Irène Joliot-Curie

Happy #WomensHistoryMonth WiSERs!

This week’s WiSE Wednesday heroine is Irène Joliot-Curie! Irène was the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie (talk about role models!). Irène was born on September 12, 1897 in Paris, France. When she was 10 years old, her parents realized she was exceedingly talented in mathematics and decided she needed a more challenging academic environment. Marie worked with prominent French scholars, including French Physicist – Paul Langevin – to form “The Cooperative”. The Cooperative gathered the most distinguished academics in France and educated one another’s children in their homes. Irène attended the Collège Sévigné and the Sorbonne. However, her studies at the Sorbonne were interrupted due to WWI. After the war, she studied at the Radium Institute, which was built by her parents. She completed her doctoral thesis on Alpha Rays of Polonium and received her PhD in 1925. Irene went on to marry a fellow scientist at the institute, Frédéric Joliot, and together they revolutionized radioactive chemistry. Their seminal discovery of artificial radioactivity, a technique to produce radioactive materials cheaply, quickly, and plentifully, allowed for improved medical diagnostics. They also pioneered research into Radium nuclei, priming the field for Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn’s discovery of Nuclear Fission. Irène and her husband were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. The Curie family has been awarded the most Nobel Prizes to date and Marie and Irène are still the only mother and daughter to both hold the award. Unfortunately, like her mother, Irène died of cancer caused by her lifelong exposure to radioactive material.

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