The Forgotten Curies

Marie Curie (centre) and her daughters Irene (left) and Eve (right)

How many Curies can you name?

Marie Sklodowska Curie (Above, centre) is probably a given, perhaps her Nobel prize winning husband Pierre (Below, right) too? But there are many more with equally impressive achievements under their belts. Some Families have family businesses- mine ran a shop- no one can deny that the family business of the Curies was science.

Let’s start with the famous dream-duo Marie and Pierre. Marrying in a civil ceremony in 1895 together they were pioneers in the field of radioactivity and were the joint winners of the physics Nobel Prize in 1903. This however, wasn’t Pierre’s fist collaborative science success. In the late 1800s Pierre was working with his brother Paul-Jacques Curie (Pictured below and left) and together the Curie brothers laid the foundations of piezoelectrics.

Paul-Jacques Curie and Pierre

Piezoelectrics are today an increasingly important area of research. A piezoelectric material is one which when exposed to changes in pressure it produces a change in electric dipole which can be used to produce a current – therefore changes in pressures/movement can be used to generate electricity. Today scientists investigate putting these materials in the sole of shoes so that with each bouncing step we take we would produce a tiny jolt of electricity- just enough perhaps to power some of the electrical devices we depend on. All made possible because of the foundations laid by the Curie brothers.

The Curie Daughters

Let’s move one generation forward, Marie and Pierre’s children. Marie and Pierre had two children Irene (Inset, right) born in 1897 and Eve (Inset, left) born 7 years later in 1904. The two little girls were to grow up and pursue very different directions…

Irene followed almost exactly in her mother’s footsteps: marrying a scientist (Frédéric Joliot); pursuing radioactivity and, just like mum and dad, winning a joint Nobel Prize (chemistry 1935). When she married her and her husband both took the second name Joliot-Curie. This now gives a total of 5 Nobel prizes bearing the Curie name and also gives rise to the only mother - daughter winners. Irene could be called the world’s first successful alchemist - her research showed the transformation of one element to another through bombardment with radioactive particles. Interestingly she also studied her doctorate under Paul Langevin, a man who’s affair with Marie Curie had caused an international scandal. Langevin is a name destined to crop up again in the Curie story.

Irene’s sister Eve took a somewhat different path... Eve never showed much interest in science but showed more aptitude for the arts. In fact Eve was the only non-scientist in the Curie family and (somewhat sadly) the only one not to win a Nobel prize. In fact even here husband Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr was to collect a Nobel Peace prize on behalf of UNICEF. I’m sure Eve bore this without much resentment she was a well-respected writer and war correspondent. Perhaps you could even argue that Eve made a sensible choice as without the dangers of radioactivity that killed her mother and sister Eve lived to the ripe old age of 102 (Irene died aged 58).

There is still one more generation to highlight, Irene’s children. These grandchildren of Marie and Pierre bear the name Joliot-Curie and are; you may have guessed it- scientists. Both of Irene’s children are still alive today and both are noted professors. Pierre Joliot-Curie is a biologist and a member of the Légion d'honneur. Irene’s daughter: Helene Joliot-Curie like her mother and her grandmother before here pursued radioactivity and is a nuclear physics and adviser to the French government.

It seemed that the Curie family tree was to hold one last little throwback to it most famous members in the form of Helene’s husband: Michel Langevin. The Curie family first crossed paths with the Langevin family when Marie’s affair with Paul Langevin caused an angry mob to form outside her house and for her second Nobel prize award almost being rescinded. Michel Langevin, is Paul Langevin’s grandson and is married to Marie Curie’s Granddaughter.

It seems that there are three things that run through the Curie family: Science, greatness and a love of Langevin men.

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