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Frédéric Joliot-Curie
Jean Frédéric Joliot

(1900-03-19)19 March 1900
Paris, France
Died 14 August 1958(1958-08-14) (aged 58)
Paris, France
Nationality France
Alma mater University of Paris
Known for Atomic nuclei
Spouse(s) Irène Joliot-Curie
Children Hélène Langevin-Joliot (b. 1927)
Pierre Joliot (b. 1932)
Scientific career
Fields Physics, chemistry

Jean Frédéric Joliot-Curie (19 March 1900 – 14 August 1958) was a French physicist, husband of Irène Joliot-Curie with whom he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.


Early years

Born in Paris, France, he was a graduate of ESPCI Paris. In 1925 he became an assistant to Marie Curie, at the Radium Institute. He fell in love with her daughter Irène Curie, and soon after their marriage in 1926 they both changed their surnames to Joliot-Curie. At the insistence of Marie, Joliot-Curie obtained a second baccalauréat, a bachelor's degree, and a doctorate in science, doing his thesis on the electrochemistry of radio-elements.


While a lecturer at the Paris Faculty of Science, he collaborated with his wife on research on the structure of the atom, in particular on the projection, or recoil, of nuclei that had been struck by other particles, which was an essential step in the discovery of the neutron by Chadwick in 1932. In 1935 they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of "artificial radioactivity", resulting from the creation of short-lived radioisotopes by nuclear transmutation from the bombardment of stable nuclides such as boron, magnesium, and aluminium with alpha particles.

In 1937 he left the Radium Institute to become a professor at the Collège de France. In January 1939 he wrote a letter to his Soviet colleague Abram Ioffe, alerting him to the fact that German physicists had recently discovered nuclear fission of uranium bombarded by neutrons, releasing large amounts of energy. He went on to work on nuclear chain reactions and the requirements for the successful construction of a nuclear reactor that uses controlled nuclear fission to generate energy. Joliot-Curie was mentioned in Albert Einstein's 1939 letter to President Roosevelt as one of the leading scientists on the course to nuclear chain reactions. The Second World War, however, largely stalled Joliot's research, as did his subsequent post-war administrative duties.

Frederic Juliot-Curie1
Stamp issued by Romania commemorating Frédéric Joliot-Curie

At the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940, Joliot-Curie managed to smuggle his working documents and materials to England with Hans von Halban, Moshe Feldenkrais and Lew Kowarski. During the French occupation he took an active part in the French Resistance as a member of the National Front. Collins and LaPierre in their book Is Paris Burning? note that during the Paris uprising in August 1944 he served in the Prefecture of Police, manufacturing Molotov cocktails for his fellow insurgents, the Resistance's principal weapon against German tanks. The Prefecture was the scene of some of the most intense fighting during the uprising.

A team of scientists and intelligence officers from the allied Alsos Mission later found Curie at the Collège de France. He was sent to England to be interviewed and gave important information about the names and activities of German scientists.


In 1944 French physicists, Pierre Auger and Jules Gueron were working on the British nuclear weapons research program at Chalk River Laboratories in Canada. As France was being liberated by the Normandy invasion, they returned to France to inform Frederic Joliot-Curie of the progress of the American/British nuclear weapon program. Frederic passed on that information to his Soviet friends.

Qian Sanqiang with the Joliot-Curies
Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie with Qian Sanqiang in 1948

He served as director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and appointed by Charles De Gaulle in 1945, he became France's first High Commissioner for Atomic Energy. In 1948 he oversaw the construction of the first French atomic reactor. A devoted communist, he was purged in 1950 and relieved of most of his duties, but retained his professorship at the Collège de France. Joliot-Curie was one of the eleven signatories to the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955. On the death of his wife in 1956, he took over her position as Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Sorbonne.

Honours and awards

Joliot-Curie was a member of the French Academy of Sciences and of the Academy of Medicine and named a Commander of the Legion of Honour.

He was the recipient of the first Stalin Peace Prize, given in 1951 for his work as president of the World Council of Peace.

The crater Joliot on the Moon is named after him. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1946.

A street in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the nearby Joliot-Curie Metro Station are named after Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Other streets bearing his name can be found in the Rivière-des-Prairies borough of north Montreal, Canada; in Bucharest, Târgu-Mureș, and Cluj-Napoca, Romania; in Warsaw and Wrocław, Poland; and in Poprad, Slovakia.

Joliot-Curie appeared as himself in Kampen om tungtvannet (La bataille de l'eau lourde in French; 1948), a French–Norwegian semi-documentary film about sabotage of the Vemork heavy water plant in Norway during World War II. His assistants Hans Halban and Lev Kovarski also appear. Joliot-Curie is shown lecturing about nuclear fission and chain reaction at the Collège de France.

Personal life

Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie
The Joliot-Curies in the 1940s

Frédéric and Irène hyphenated their surnames to Joliot-Curie after they married on 4 October 1926 in Paris, France, although their daughter has said, "Many people used to name my parents Joliot-Curie, but they signed their scientific papers Irène Curie and Frédéric Joliot."

Joliot-Curie's daughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, was born in 1927. She is a nuclear physicist and professor at the University of Paris. Her brother, Pierre Joliot, was born in 1932. He is a biochemist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie devoted the last years of his life to the creation of a centre for nuclear physics at Orsay, where his children were educated.

  • [[Category:Nobel Prize in {{{1}}} winners]] including the Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1935 Chemical Evidence of the Transmutation of Elements

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See also

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