Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Hélène Langevin-Joliot discusses her parents (Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie) and grandparents (Marie and Pierre Curie).

Oral history audio excerpt

Hélène Langevin-Joliot discusses her parents (Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie) and grandparents (Marie and Pierre Curie).

Langevin-Joliot:

Okay, and then later Marie obtained that the University together with the Pasteur Institute decided to create the Radium Institute — a laboratory large enough for developing radioactivity researches. That was in 1912. So the Radium Institute had two departments, one part for physics and chemistry directed by Marie Curie, and one part for biology and medicine. During the Great War my mother helped Marie to develop X-ray equipped cars for the wounded. But the discovery of Radium did not happened there. My parents worked at the Radium Institute for their research. After the discovery of artificial radioactivity and the Nobel Prize, the question was to go farther and everybody were convinced that accelerators were needed for that purpose. They decided that my father would create another lab for that and my mother would remain at the Radium Institute. They continued discussing a lot together on physics, but they worked no more together. There were so many things to investigate! Each of them organized a new team with young collaborators. My father became a professor at the College de France and started to build a cyclotron. It was a turning point between the previous way of inducing nuclear reactions with the alpha particle emitted by natural radioelement (Polonium was the best choice), to inducing them with particle beams produced by accelerators. In the United States E. Lawrence had discovered the cyclotron, and he had developed it for several years already, so it was really the time to do that also in France.

Niroomand-Rad:

To get to higher energy?

Langevin-Joliot:

Yes. And my father was very much interested by the possible applications of radioisotopes to biology and medicine. He really wanted to produce enough quantity of radioisotopes for that. Why is that important? During that time, my mother was working with neutrons.

Niroomand-Rad:

With neutron? So she continued her research in neutron bombardment.

Langevin-Joliot:

Yes. To tell the truth, after fission was discovered by Hahn and Strassmann — sometimes my parents have commented: Maybe if we had worked together, we would have solved the puzzle and discover uranium fission. My mother came very near to it with Savitch. We cannot know anyway.