A brilliant scientist herself, she is the elder daughter of Marie Curie. Iréne had always been interested in chemistry; so having graduated from secondary school graduation, she immediately became her mother's assistant in the Radium Institute in Paris. She submitted her doctoral thesis on the alpha rays of polonium in 1925.
She met Frédéric Joliot, her future husband and research partner in the Radium Institute. In their experiment, they bombarded aluminium with alpha particles, and produced a substance the radiation of which, similar to natural radioactivity, decreased. They were the first to produce synthetic radioactive substance. In 1934, the couple started to study positron emission. Shared with her husband, Iréne received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.
In the late 1930s, she was appointed Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research for the French government, and then she was elected professor at the Sorbonne in 1937. After World War II, the couple oversaw the construction and the starting of the first French atomic reactor. In 1946, Iréne became director of the Radium Institute, founded by her mother.
She was in poor health during the last years of her life. Similar to her mother, she died of leukaemia in 1956. The Joliot-Curies' daughter, Hélène and son, Pierre also became greatly recognized scientists.