September 12 – Happy Birthday, Irene Joliot-Curie

Posted on September 12, 2014

Like mother, like daughter:
Irene (standing) and Marie Curie
Did you know that Marie and Pierre Curie, famous for winning Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work in radioactivity, had a daughter—who also won a Nobel Prize for her work in radioactivity?!

Irene Curie was born on this date in 1897, in Paris. She started her formal education at age 10, but her parents soon decided that she needed a more challenging environment than the traditional school. So Irene's mother, Marie Curie, created what we today might call a homeschooling co-op. She enlisted the help of a number of eminent French scholars who also had children, and each parent took a turn educating all of the children in his or her own home. As you might imagine, with the Curies and another physicist, Paul Langevin, being part of “The Cooperative,” scientific principles and methodologies were part of the curriculum, but a variety of topics were explored in this co-op, including Chinese and sculpture. Apparently there was a lot of emphasis on self-expression, and a lot of time for play.

Like her parents, Irene went into physics. 

Like her parents, she married another scientist, and they each took on the other's last name, becoming Irene Joliot-Curie and Frederic Joliet-Curie. 

Like Irene's parents, the Joliot-Curies worked with radioactivity.

And like her parents, the two won a Nobel Prize for their work!

They were the first to discover how to create artificial radioactivity and how to turn one element into another. The Joliet-Curies created radioactive nitrogen from boron. Later they created radioactive phosphorous from aluminum, and radioactive silicon from magnesium.

Radioactive atoms emit (give off)
either particles or energy.

Unfortunately, also like her mother, Joliet-Curie died from working so long with dangerous radioactive materials.

Also on this date:

United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation

Anniversary of JFK's “space speech” and other space stuff

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