Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956)

Irène Joliot-Curie

1897 On the 12th of September Irene Curie was born. In her mother’s laboratory she met Frederic Joliot, they became good friends and then they got married. Irene and Frederic devoted their life to science and together they got extraordinary results.

1928 Due to their collaboration, the success started to appear, their names were united for numerous communications to Academy of Sciences.

Thanks to Marie Curie, Radium Institute possessed 1.5 kg of radium and meanwhile, over the years there were also radium D and polonium. Frederic and Irene developed a method to prepare polonium.

1933 So, having the best projectiles at that time – alpha particles – Joliot and Curie succeeded to make an experience that led them to the great discovery of artificial radioactivity. Bombarding a thin sheet of aluminium with alpha particles emitted by polonium, they identified among the reaction’s results not only protons and neutrons, but also positrons. Moreover, it was found that positrons emission lasts a short time after the bombarding stops, but the emission intensity decreases according to an exponential law: so, they artificially created radioactivity. They correctly interpreted the phenomenon: by aluminium bombarding radioactive nuclei appeared and emitted positrons like natural radioactive nuclei that emit beta radiations (electrons). Artificial radioactivity discovery was extremely important because it would lead to radioactive isotopes production and so, to energy use issued by these and also to the study of some nuclear phenomena.

1935 For this great discovery Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie enjoyed a deserved appreciation within scientific world and they were awarded Nobel Award for Physics (in fact, artificial radioactivity had been discovered by Romanian chemist and physicist Stefania Maracineanu in 1924, but Nobel Award for this discovery was give to French chemists). Soon after getting Nobel Award, Frederic Joliot-Curie was appointed teacher for College of France, and Irene teacher for University in Paris. Their collaboration weakened because of the circumstances that occurred.

During the following period, Irene and P. Savici bombarded uranium with neutrons, according to Fermi’s procedure, but instead of noticing transuranic elements production – as Fermi thought – they identified “lanthanum” element.

Then, Frederic Joliot-Curie and his collaborators demonstrated that when the fission of a uranium nucleus takes place, under the action of a neutron, other neutrons are emitted and because of them other fissions follow, so establishing chain reaction principle. World War II determined nuclear researches suspension in France. “Undoubtedly – said English physicist Blackett – if the war has not started, the first maintained chain reaction would have been done in France”. Its achievement, as it is known, was done by Fermi.

Frederic Joliot-Curie was appointed great commissioner of Organization for Atomic Energy and Irene was also a commissioner to the same organization. Their activity was dedicated to the two fields in the same time: teachers and researchers.

Different and multiple activities, the work frequently performed on dangerous conditions, damaged his health and he got extremely sick. Irene was also ill because of the same causes, she was very sad because she could not take care of her husband.

1950-1951 Their health was also bad because of the hard problems, when because of political reasons Frederic Joliot-Curie was withdrew the task he had for Atomic Energy Commissariat, and few months later Irene’s appointing to the same organization was not prolonged.

1956 Irene Joliot-Curie died because of leukemia and two tears later Frederic passed away, too – both prematurely – giving to mankind a very important scientific legacy.[1]



    1. Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956), - accesed on 12.09.2013

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