Who Was Nobel Laureate Irène Joliot-Curie?

French Nobel laureate Irène Joliot Curie was the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. Like parents, Irene won Nobel Prize with husband Jean.
irene curie - daughter of marie curie winner of nobel prize chemistry

"One must work seriously, be independent and not spend life just having fun; that is what our mother - Marie Curie - always told us, but never that science was the only career worth pursuing."

Irène Joliot-Curie [1897-1956] was a French chemist and physicist. She was the elder daughter of Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, and a Nobel laureate, like her parents - continuing the Curie legacy.

Early life

Irene and her younger sister Eve lost their father Pierre Curie early on in 1906, when he had a tragic accident. Madame Curie was left alone to raise the two daughters.

marie curie with daughters irene and eve
Madame Curie with daughters Irene and Eve

Irène was great when it came to science and mathematics, her mother chose to focus on home schooling instead of the more conventional public school route.

Marie formed a local entity called "The Cooperative" with other distinguished French scholars, in which nine students that were children of the most eminent personalities of France took admission. Irene was part of that club.

Children were encouraged to learn not only the sciences but also engage in cultural experiences, play music, study foreign languages, etc.

While a teenager, Irene joined her mother in laboratory as an assistant. Curie taught her daughter - "Life is not easy for any of us. So what of it? One must have confidence and believe that they are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.


Jean Frédéric Joliot was a French chemical engineer who wanted to work with Madame Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes. He became an assistant to Marie Curie at the Radium Institute. Joliot fell in love with Irène, and soon after their marriage in 1926 - they both changed their surnames to Joliot-Curie.

Work as a couple

Similar to Pierre and Marie Curie, daughter Irene worked alongside husband Jean, in the laboratory. In 1933, the couple became the first to calculate the accurate mass of the neutron, which was discovered in 1932.

It is an alchemist's dream to turn one element into another. In 1934 Joliot-Curies used their knowledge of chemistry and realized that dream. They created radioactive nitrogen from boron, radioactive isotopes of phosphorus from aluminum, and silicon from magnesium.

By then, radioactive materials were used in medicine - it was a growing industry. Their techniques allowed radioactive elements to be created quickly, cheaply, and in abundance. Today these materials are even used in the treatment of cancer.

For their pioneering work, Joliot-Curies won the Nobel Prize in 1935, as a couple, replicating the success of Pierre and Marie Curie three decades prior to this. This added to the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes.


Much like her mother, Irene died of over exposure to radioactive materials. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 1946 as she had been accidentally exposed to polonium in 1946. Irene died in 1956 aged 58.

As Irene was an atheist, her family asked not to conduct a religious ceremony for her death. Her children, daughter Helene and son Pierre, went on to become notable scientists - physicist and biochemist respectively.

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