Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
Born: 12 September 1897, Paris, France
Died: 17 March 1956, Paris, France
Affiliation at the time of the award: Institut du Radium, Paris, France
Prize motivation: "in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements."
Prize share: 1/2
Irène Curie was born in Paris as the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie, who went on to become Nobel Laureates in Physics and Chemistry. Irène Curie worked together with her mother to provide mobile X-ray units during World War I. She resumed her studies at the university in Paris after the war and later worked at the institute that her parents had founded. It was there that she conducted her Nobel Prize-awarded work together with Frédéric Joliot, whom she married in 1926. The couple was politically active and worked to combat fascism and Nazism. They had two children.
Radiation from radioactive substances also became an important tool in investigating atoms. When Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot bombarded a thin piece of aluminum with alpha particles (helium atom nuclei) in 1934, a new kind of radiation was discovered that left traces inside an apparatus known as a cloud chamber. The pair discovered that the radiation from the aluminum continued even after the source of radiation was removed. This was because aluminum atoms had been converted into a radioactive isotope of phosphorus. That meant that, for the first time in history, a radioactive element had been created artificially.