| As the oldest
daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, it is no surprise that Irene would
exhibit an early interest in science. Unlike other young girls of
this time, Irene's interest was considered by her parents to be
completely normal. It was expected that she should pursue an
advanced degree in science. Accordingly, Irene attended the
University of Paris, where she graduated with a doctorate in physics.
After graduation, Irene began
work with her mother at the Radium Institute. There she met her
future husband, Frederic Joliot and they married in 1926, adopting the
combined name of Joliot-Curie. They would work together as a team
until the German occupation of France during World War II.
In 1933, they made the
discovery that radioactive elements can be artificially produced from
stable elements. This was done by exposing aluminum foil to alpha
particles. When the radioactive source was removed, the
Joliot-Curies discovered that the aluminum had become radioactive.
This discovery had far
reaching applications - especially in medicine. Other isotopes
were soon discovered, including a radioactive form of iodine, which was
used to treat thyroid diseases. Because their discovery proved
that radioactive isotopes could be made relatively inexpensively, the
difficult task of separating naturally occurring radioactive isotopes
from their ores (which her mother, Marie, had labored long to do) was no
longer necessary. This discovery greatly advanced the development
of nuclear physics.
Like her mother, Irene
Joliot-Curie died of leukemia caused by years of radiation
exposure. She was 58 years old.