Irène Joliot-Curie: a snapshot biography

Black and white historical photograph from 1925 showing Madame Curie and her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie. They are engaged in a scientific experiment, standing by a table with laboratory equipment. Madame Curie is observing while her daughter is adjusting the apparatus. Both are wearing long dresses and have a focused expression, typical of the era's professional attire and demeanor in a laboratory setting.

Her parents were the first married couple to win a Nobel Prize. She and her husband were the second.

Irène Joliot-Curie was born in Paris in 1897 to Marie and Pierre Curie. Her father passed away in an accident when Irène was nine years old. Marie raised Irène and her sister from then.

While Marie achieved much success in her work, she didn’t push Irène into a life of science. In the words of Irène on career advice that her mother offered: “One must do some work seriously and must be independent and not merely amuse oneself in life…but never that science was the only career worth following.”

But science and education, in general, were very much a part of Irène’s upbringing. Her mother, along with other prominent French scholars, created a learning cooperative for their children. Each child rotated, learning from the expertise of the scholars. Irène was not ten yet when she left public school to learn from her mother’s peers. And by her early teens, Marie made sure Irène was studying daily, even during summer breaks.

Irène grew into an assertive woman, unafraid to speak her mind, direct, and well-informed. She was passionate about sports, politics, but most of all, about science. And as her parents, Irène became a scientist. Irène would dedicate her research life to the study of radioactivity. For which she and her husband would win the Nobel Prize in 1935.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Irène also took an active role in politics, becoming Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research in France in 1936. And after the Nazis invaded and occupied France, Irène helped her husband as part of the resistance. Over the years post war, she would also dedicate herself to fighting for women’s rights.

Irène passed away in 1956 from acute leukemia.

“Irène Joliot-Curie: a snapshot biography” sources:

Science Museum Group Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0001759.html (no changes made) / Wikimedia Commons / Mary Margaret McBride, A Long Way from Missouri / Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists by John Daintith / Wikipedia

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