Irène Joliot-Curie already accompanied her mother Marie to the award ceremony in Stockholm when the latter received her second Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. Irène was 14 years old at that time and had lost her father Pierre Curie already more than 5 years ago.
At this time she probably did not even guess that 24 years later, in 1935, she should travel to Stockholm again to receive her own Nobel Prize for her achievements in Chemistry.
Student and Assistant
But let’s catch up with the time in between first.
Irène was born the first daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie In 1897. She stepped in her parents’ foot prints at a very early age. When her mother Marie Curie organised and run these mobile x-ray service during WWI we already discussed, Irène who was only 17 than assisted her and soon lead the x-ray station in the military hospital in Amiens, France. One would think that was a fulltime job already. Not for Irène. She studied mathematics and physics at the University. Her doctorate was accepted in 1925.
After WWI she worked as an assistant at her mother’s Radon Institute where she met Fréderic Joliot whom she married in 1926.
Teamwork and Politics
Just like the Curies the Joliots made a great team, collaborated successfully and therefore both were awarded the Nobel Prize.
Both of them were much into political activities. In 1934 they both took part in a committee of intellectuals that engaged against fascism and two years later Irène worked as the undersecretary of states for science and research. This made her one of three women who were the first group of females to be members of the cabinet. Remember, French women had no voting right at that time. Irène Joliot only remained a few month in this position as she only wanted to make a statement in favour of the feminist movement.
In 1940, when the Nazis occupied Paris, Irène and Frédéric Joliot left Paris but soon returned. Frédéric smuggled his research results concerning nuclear fission to London and in 1941 became the president of the Résistance.
Irène suffered from tuberculosis and in 1941 she and her two children travelled to Switzerland to cure her illness.
The couple engaged politically for the rest of their lives and Irène Joliot-Curie died from leukaemia in 1956. The government ordered a state funeral for her.