Hélène Langevin-Joliot is a French nuclear physicist. She is the granddaughter of Nobel Prize winning physicists Marie and Pierre Curie and the daughter of Nobel Prize winners Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie. In this interview, she discusses the challenges Marie and Pierre overcame to study science, and their scientific collaboration that led to their discovery of polonium and radium. Langevin-Joliot discusses her parents’ contributions to the global development of nuclear physics during the 1930s, their decision to remain in France during the Nazi Occupation, and Frederic’s role leading the postwar French Atomic Energy Commission. Langevin-Joliot concludes by addressing her own experiences in the field of nuclear physics, particularly the difficulties of being a woman in science.
Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and is the author of the definitive biography of General Leslie Groves. In this interview, Norris provides an overview of the French atomic program, describing the influence of Marie Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie. He goes on to explain how nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France, became nuclear powers in the context of the Cold War. He also discusses current debates over nuclear weapons. Norris provides insight into the creation of the 509th Composite Group, and the U.S. decision to use the atomic bombs in Japan.
Garret Martin is a professor at American University’s School of International Service and is the author of “General de Gaulle’s Cold War: Challenging American Hegemony, 1963-68.” In this interview, Martin discusses the rise of French President Charles de Gaulle and France’s decision to build an atomic bomb. He also elaborates on the Franco-American relationship, the changing role of France in NATO, and the impact of the Algerian War and the French nuclear tests in Algeria. Martin concludes with an evaluation of nuclear weapons and energy in France today.
Spencer Weart is a historian of science. Originally trained as a physicist, Weart served for many years as director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland. In this interview, Weart discusses the French nuclear program, starting with its origins with Marie and Pierre Curie. He examines the prominent role of their daughter, Irene, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, who together won a Nobel Prize in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. Irene and Frédéric’s work made enormous contributions to the development of nuclear physics during the late 1930s. Weart goes on to explain how, during World War II, key members of the French program became part of the Manhattan Project, as well as Joliot’s role in the French Resistance. He concludes with a discussion of the postwar nuclear program in France.
Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.
Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the late 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member in the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski recounts his experience secretly transporting the French supply of heavy water to England to keep it out of Nazi hands. He also discusses his time working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University with James Chadwick and other esteemed physicist. He also explains the Manhattan Project from a European perspective, including the increasing secrecy of the project.
Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski discusses his upbringing in Russia, and the beginnings of his scientific career under Frédéric Joliot-Curie. He also outlines the process through which the splitting of uranium atoms was realized.