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Joliot, Frédéric

physicist nuclear atomic married

[zholyoh] (1900–58) French nuclear physicist: co-discoverer of artificially-induced radioactivity.

Trained in science in Paris, Joliot became assistant to in 1925 and soon proved his skill as an experimenter. Mme Curie’s elder daughter Irène was already her assistant in the Radium Institute, and she and Joliot married in 1926. (After his marriage, he took the name Joliot-Curie.) Their personalities were very different, he an extrovert, she very diffident. Only in 1931 did they begin to collaborate in research, with notable success. They also perpetuated a family tradition; their daughter Hélène (1927– ) became a nuclear physicist and married a physicist grandson .

Foreseeing the consequences of the nuclear fission of uranium discovered by others in 1939, Joliot secured from Norway the world’s major stock (less than 200 kg) of heavy water (D2O; used as a moderator in early atomic piles) and, when France was invaded in 1940, he arranged for it to be sent to the UK. After the war, as their leading nuclear physicist, he directed work on France’s first atomic pile, which operated in 1948; but his successes became confused by his showmanship, his need for adulation and his politics (he had been President of the National Front and had formed the French Communist Party), and he was removed from his post as high commissioner for atomic energy in 1950.

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