|LE MONDE, PARIS, FRANCE|
August 15, 1958
Joliot was above-average in height with dark hair and dark eyes. He was very athletic and an avid skier, sailor, tennis player, hunter, and fisherman. With Joliot's skill in conversation and abundant charm, he will be greatly missed in scientific circles as well as in Parisian society.
Joliot was born in Paris, France, sixth child of Henri Joliot and Emilie Roederer. At the age of ten he entered the Lycee Lakanal, a boarding school in the south of Paris. After the death of his father, he transferred to the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle of the City of Paris. Though studying at an engineering school, he pursued basic science and Joliot was influenced by Paul Langevin to become a lifelong pacificist and socialist. He became an expert experimenter and graduated first in his class.
In the spring of 1925, Joliot began his work at the Institut du Radium under the direction of the distinguished physicist Mme. Curie. He received his doctorate in 1930. At the Institut he conducted his initial research on the chemical properties of polonium. At this time he also met Irene Curie, daughter of Mme. Curie, who was an assistant at the Institut. They were married the following year, at which time they adopted the joint name Joliot-Curie in honor of Madame and Pierre Curie. The Joliot-Curies did not begin to collaborate closely on their research work until 1931.
Upon receiving a scholarship, he entered the Caisse Nationale des Sciences which permitted him to continue his research in radioactive phenomena. His engineering training enabled him to construct a greatly improved Wilson cloud chamber which helped him visualize the trajectories of atomic particles. In collaboration with his wife Irene, he discovered artificially induced radioactivity early in 1934 for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1935. The Joliot-Curies provided chemical evidence for transmutation ( the change of one element to another) with the change of aluminum into a previously unknown isotope (variety) of silicon. This led to the development of a new discipline - the production and study of radioisotopes (radioactive forms of elements).
In 1939, Joliot-Curie confirmed the German physicist Otto Hahn's discovery of nuclear fission (splitting of the uranium atom). He immediately recognized the importance of this experiment and saw the likelihood of producing a chain reaction, a direct forerunner of the development of the atomic bomb. Joliot-Curie ordered six tons of uranium oxide from the Belgian Congo, and nearly all of the available "heavy water" from Norway, and sent them to England in advance of the invading German army. He decided to remain in Paris, but discontinued any work which would have been of benefit to the occupying German army. During World War II he worked in resistance activities joining the Communist Party in 1942.
Following the liberation of France and the explosion of the first atomic bomb, Joliot-Curie persuaded President de Gaulle to create an Atomic Energy Commission in October 1945. De Gaulle appointed Joliot-Curie as the first High Commissioner. The Atomic Energy Commission developed France's first atomic pile, in December 1948. In addition, Joliot-Curie persuaded the government to build a major nuclear research center at Saclay.
As a result of positions taken in support of the Communist Party, Joliot-Curie was removed from his position at the Commission by Georges Didault in April 1950. Accepting a position at the College de France, he refocused on laboratory research and teaching. He also dedicated himself to the advancement of the cause of world peace through his efforts as president of the World Organization of the Partisans of Peace. After the death of his wife Irene in March 1956, he succeeded her as head of the Radium Institute.
Joliot-Curie is survived by a son Pierre Joliot and a daughter Helene Joliot. Funeral and burial arrangements are not complete at this time. However, the government of General de Gaulle has announced the distinguished physicist and hero will be honored by a full state funeral in Paris.
C. G. Gillespie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. VII; Charles Scribner's and Sons: New York, 1973.
M. Goldsmith, Frederic Joliot-Curie, A Biography, Beekman Publishing, Inc., Woodstock, New York, 1976.
S. R. Weart, Scientist in Power, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1979.