Daughter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie, she was determined to continue her parents’ work from a young age. When, together with her husband Frederic Joliot, she received the Nobel Prize, the newspapers wrote at length about the royal family of French science.
She was born on 12 September 1897 in Paris. When she was still a child, she was taught by professors of the Sorbonne, because her famous mother was against public schooling. When she was 13, Albert Einstein, a family friend, discovered her great talent. As a 16-year-old she drove around in an X-ray van with her mother, helping soldiers on the battle fields of World War I. The women communicated in Polish, which was frequently taken for German and led to them being accused of spying.
In 1934, together with her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie, she took a picture of a cloud chamber, in which she recorded the formation of electron-positron pairs. One year later, Irene and Frederic received a Nobel Prize for the discovery of artificial radioactivity. After the War, Irene became the head of the Curie Academy and, like her mother, was not accepted to the French Academy of Sciences. She would joke that the academics were at least consistent. Irene Joliot died at the age of 58 in Paris from leukaemia, which her husband called ‘an occupational disease.’