The Curie Dynasty

Day 314 of Colourisation Project – March 17

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born in Paris, France in 1897, Irène Joliot-Curie was a French physicist, who married another French physicist, Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

The Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Sorbonne, she also happened to be the daughter of physicists, Marie Skłodowska-Curie (better known as Madame Curie) and Pierre Curie. Famous for their study of radioactivity, they won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1903, making Marie Curie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first person and only woman to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, the second award being for chemistry in 1911 with her discovery of radium and polonium.

Irène Joliot-Curie

Photo: Smithsonian Institution ~ Irène Joliot-Curie ~ Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Big shoes to follow, you would think. Well, just like her famous parents before her, Irène Joliot-Curie along with her husband, Frédéric Joliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This makes the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date.

When Marie and Pierre Curie were united in marriage, they had no idea what a multi-generational progeny of distinguished scientists their genetic pedigree would unleash upon the world.

Irène and Frédéric hyphenated their surnames to Joliot-Curie after they married in 1926. Though they publicly used the hyphenated surname, they signed their scientific papers Irène Curie and Frédéric Joliot.

They had two children, Hélène and Pierre, both of whom followed in the family tradition of working in the scientific world. They each went on to become esteemed scientists. Both are in their 80s and still living today.

Pierre (named after his grandfather) is a noted biophysicist who has made contributions to the study of photosynthesis. He is married to Anne, a biologist.

Joliot-Curie’s daughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, is a noted nuclear physicist and professor at the University of Paris.

Her husband, Michel Langevin, also a nuclear physicist was the grandson of the famous physicist Paul Langevin, who had an affair with Hélène’s grandmother, the widowed Marie Curie, in 1910. Their son, Yves born in 1951 is currently an astrophysicist.

Back to Irène… a peace activist with a keen interest in women’s rights, she was a member of the National Committee of the Union of French Women and of the World Peace Council. In 1936 the French government appointed her as the Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research and was later also made a member of the French Légion d’honneur.

Once more like her mother, Irène Joliot-Curie died this day, 17 March 1956 from leukemia, contracted through exposure to radioactivity in the course of her work. She was 58 years old.


“That one must do some work seriously and must be independent and not merely amuse oneself in life—this our mother has told us always, but never that science was the only career worth following.”   ― Irène Joliot-Curie

This entry was posted in Biology, Colorization, Colourisation, France, History, Photography, Women, Women in Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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