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Irene Joliot-Curie

JOLIOT-CURIE, Irene, French physicist, 1897-1956. Irene helped her mother (Marie Curie) as a nurse in WW1 with a mobile x-ray unit. Her postgraduate work was on the range of alpha particles. In 1926 Irene was married to Frederic Joliot, both worked on radioactivity and the transmutation of elements. Twice they made important discoveries but were not quite the first. However, in 1934, they observed that with certain elements the radiation was continuing after the bombardment with particles had ended. In effect they had created a radioactive isotope of the element bombarded, but it was one that did exist naturally. Their discovery was that artificial radioactive isotopes could be manufactured. They jointly received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935, a year before her mother died. Later Irene was a professor at the Sorbonne and then Director of the Radium Institute. Neither she nor her husband had made any significant discovery whilst working on their own. In 1937, Irene instigated work that Hahn later followed up and it enabled him to split the atom (for a Nobel Prize). The husband Frederic was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1943, but Irene who had achieved more during her career was repeatedly turned down (as had been her mother). Irene died of leukaemia caused by frequent exposure to radiation (also like her mother).


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