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.
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.
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.