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Prof. Irene Curie is no stranger to the world of Nobel prizes as both her parents are awardees! She is the second woman to win a Nobel prize in Chemistry in the year 1935, right after her mother who was the first woman to win it! Her work was also carried forward from what her parents had previously done, and this is where along with her husband, Prof. Frederic Joliot, she managed to discover artificial radioactivity! For somebody who has always been trained by her immediate family to explore science.

Artificial radioactivity

From a young age, Prof. Curie has been helping out her mother with her research, and even when she had to go to the battlefield during the world war, she went to help her mother set up radiology units and run them independently. This is where her panache for the field of radioactivity came into being and led her to continue her research in this field. Many times, they came close to making big discoveries in the field but couldn’t make much of it, until they discovered radioactivity. So, how did they do this?

When they were conducting an experiment in which they had to bombard helium nuclei (alpha particles) onto an aluminum foil, they realized that even after the experiment was done, the foil was emitting radiation in the form of positrons! This was a great breakthrough because it was the first time that they were able to create radioactivity artificially. Basically, they produced or manufactured radioactive atoms.

Irene Curie and Frederic Joliot working in their physics lab in the year 1935 (Source: nobelprize.org)

Impact of the achievement

The impact of this discovery was tremendous because it opened up avenues for creating artificial radioactive atoms that could be used for medical purposes. This is exactly what came out of this achievement as now we have potential therapies for cancer and many other diseases as well. This is not only limited to therapies but it is also used for diagnostics purposes as well. For example, radioactive iodine is used to diagnose thyroid issues in the body.

Science and peace missions

Prof. Curie’s achievements were not only limited to the applications of radioactivity in the medical field but also extend to peace missions. When she and her husband had found out that their discoveries could be used as a potential weapon, they hid all their original work documents in a safe place because they did not want them to fall in the wrong hands. She has also been on the council for many peace missions and has actively propagated the good word of science. All in all, she is not only a figure to look up to to gain inspiration for science but also how to perform ethical science and use our abilities to propagate good science that can help mankind.

References

Irene Joliot Curie (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/irene-joliot-curie

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