Hélène Langevin-Joliot

Women in STEM
Hélène Langevin-Joliot

Birth: September 17, 1927

Specialty: Physics

Major Contributions:

Emeritus Director of Research at French National Centre for Scientific Research

Professor of Nuclear Physics at the University of Paris

President of French Rationalist Union

Image: Lionel Allorge (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

If you think being the child of Nobel prize winning scientists comes with its own unique pressures, try being the child and grandchild of Nobel prize winning scientists. This could have been the reality of nuclear physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot. Instead she recalls that when her parents, Irène Curie and Frédéric Joliot, received word of being awarded the Nobel prize, she was more excited about her friends visiting her in a new home.

For Hélène, Marie Curie was a typical grandmother that loved to spend time with her grandchildren, and they would take walks together while on family vacations. Never pushed into deciding to study science by her parents she nonetheless developed a great love of physics and began her education only to be interrupted by World War II.

As she was preparing to take her baccalaureate exams her parents decided that, due to her father’s resistance efforts against the German occupation of France, she, her mother, and brother needed to escape to Switzerland.  Finishing her exams on June 5, the family took advantage of the D-Day invasion, which caused the German border guards to be distracted, and they crossed to safety. 

Returning to France, she continued her studies at the Collège de France earning her doctoral degree. During this time, she was hired at the French National Centre for Scientific Research where she rose to the rank of director before her retirement.  Her lab eventually moved to the Institute at Orsay, which had been designed by her parents, and her research turned to medium-energy nuclear reactions. 

She worked as a professor of nuclear physics at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the University of Paris where her research focus was on exotic nuclei and highly excited hole states in medium and heavy nuclei.

Willing to share her personal history and family legacy, she gives talks about the Curies and authored the introduction to Radiation and Modern Life: Fulfilling Marie Curie’s Dream.  Through writings for the Association for Scientific Culture and the Promotion of Reason and Science she advocates for peaceful use of nuclear and atomic energy. As a member of the French government’s advisory committee she is active politically and is a vocal advocate for women in the sciences using her own family story to encourage women to join STEM fields.

Written by Angela Goad


Marie & Pierre Curie’s granddaughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, visits the United States

Professor Hélène Langevin-Joliot: “People have both the right and the duty to seek information and learn about chemicals”

Hélène Langevin-Joliot: A Granny, More Than a Physicist

Wikipedia: Hélène Langevin-Joliot

Curing the Curie complex

See Also:

Wikipedia: Centre national de la recherche scientifique