Famous Father-Son and Father-Daughter Teams in Science

Famous Father-son-Daugher scientific teams

William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg 

William Henry and his son Lawrence are certainly among the most famous father and son teams in science through their Nobel Prize winning research and analysis of crystal structure by means of X-Rays. 

William Henry Braggs’ scientific career commenced in earnest when he was granted a scholarship to Trinity college Cambridge where he excelled and in 1885, he was appointed professor of mathematics and physics at the University of Adelaide, Southern Australia. It was here that the foundations were laid for his future, award winning work. Bragg worked with a firm of instrument makers and made all the equipment he needed for his own experiements. Upon returning to England, Bragg created the Bragg ionization spectrometer, the prototype for all modern x-ray and neutron diffractometers. 

At the time, the work of the German physicist Max von Laue was critical in opening up new possibilities for the world of science. In 1912, Von Laue discovered that crystals could diffract X-rays (a discovery that he would be awarded a nobel prize for in 1914). Lawrence Bragg was studying physics at Cambridge at the time and together with his father Henry, they began applying X rays to the study of crystal structure. The British father and son team were jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for physics in 1915 for their work.

The Braggs’ technique continues to be used to great effect today, in fields such as medicine, chemistry and physics. Since 1915, up to 20 other Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists who have used X-ray crystallography to conduct their research.

William Lawrence Bragg (left) and William Henry Bragg. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

Marie and Pierre Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie

Marie Curie is certainly one of the worlds most famous scientists but scientific invention was a family affair. Husband and wife team Pierre and Marie Curie shared a Nobel Prize in physics and thirty-two years later, their daughter Irène, and son-in-law,  Frédéric, shared a Nobel Prize in chemistry for synthesizing new radioactive elements.  

Marie Curie was born Manya Sklodowska in 1867 in Poland. Her mother died when she was just ten years old and Marie was raised by her father, a science teacher who encouraged her love of science even though he could not afford to send her to university. 

Marie moved to France where she earned degrees in physics and maths. In 1894, she met Pierre Curie, professor of the school of Physics whom she married and together they began their research endeavours. Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity in 1896 inspired the Curies research which eventually led them to successfully isolate polonium and radium in 1902.

Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodowska Curie. Credit: Shutterstock

Their eldest daughter Irène was born in Paris in 1897 and at the break-out of World War I, she assisted her mother on the front lines where X-ray was being used to locate sharpnel in wounded soldiers. After the war, she met her future husband Frédéric Joliot at her mother’s radium institute. Together, Irène and Frédéric dedicated themselves to a life of scientific research. 

In 1934, they demonstrated that it was possible to artificially create radioactive isotypes of elements that are not naturally radioactive. Their discovery changed the course of modern physics and opened up new fields of radioactive research for applications in chemistry, biology and medicine. Their discovery in particular paved the way for major advances in the fight against cancer.  In 1935, the Joliot-Curies received the Nobel Prize in chemistry. 

Irène and Frédéric Joliot. Credit: Corbis

Amazingly, the great Joliot-Curie legacy continues with both of Irène and Frédéric’s children leading successful careers in their native France. Daughter Hélène Langevin-Joliot, is a professor of nuclear physics at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the University of Paris and a director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Son Pierre Adrien Joliot-Curie is a biologist and also a researcher at the CNRS. 

Quite the acts to follow for us all! 

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