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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made
people:Irène Joliot-Curie
Born: 12 September 1897, Paris, France
Died: 17 March 1956, Paris, France

One half of the Joliot-Curie husband and wife partnership researching radioactivity.

Irène was born Irène Curie, daughter to the celebrated Pierre and Marie. Much of her education came from her mother, whom she assisted with radiography during the First World War and later at the Paris Radium Institute. Here she met her future husband, fellow atheist Frédéric Joliot. They were married in 1926.

The Joliot-Curies worked together on radioactivity just as the Curies had done. In 1933-34, they observed that aluminium which had been bombarded by a-particles continued to emit positrons afterwards, from which they deduced that a new 'radioisotope' had been created. This was the discovery of artificial radioactivity, for which they shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Their find meant that in addition to the small group of naturally radioactive elements, other elements could be made radioactive. This proved immensely useful for medicine and industry.

During the Second World War the Joliot-Curies remained in France and were active in the resistance against the Nazis. Later Irène became a commissioner for the French atomic energy project. She died, like her mother, of radiation-induced leukaemia.

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