French physicist who, in collaboration with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900–58), discovered artificial radioactivity. For this they were awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
The daughter of the early Nobel laureates Pierre and Marie Curie, Irène Curie obtained a doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1925 and married her mother's research assistant, Frédéric Joliot, a year later. Together they worked under Marie Curie at the Radium Institute in Paris – Irène eventually becoming director of the institute in 1946. She was succeeded on her death in 1956 by her husband, who held the office until his own death in 1958.
In 1931 the Joliot-Curies began a classic series of experiments. They bombarded aluminium with alpha particles and noted that the aluminium emitted protons under the bombardment. To their surprise, however, the aluminium continued to emit protons after the alpha-particle source was removed. It soon became clear that the stable aluminium atoms had absorbed alpha particles and been transmuted into radio isotopes of silicon. The Joliot-Curies' later work on the neutron bombardment of uranium was of great importance in the discovery of nuclear fission. After World War II Mme Joliot-Curie was involved in the foundation of the French Atomic Energy Commission. Like her mother, Irène Joliot-Curie died of leukaemia.
Subjects: Science and technology