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Frederic Joliot-Curie
(19 Mar 1900 - 14 Aug 1958)

French physicist and physical chemist who while personal assistant to Marie Curie, married her daughter Irène. He and his wife collaborated in Nobel prize-winning research on nuclear transmutation of atoms.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie
“Open as many windows as possible on the unforeseen”

Illustrated Quote - Medium (500 x 250 px)

“I have always attached great importance to the manner in which an experiment is set up and conducted … the experiment should be set up to open as many windows as possible on the unforeseen.”
— Frédéric Joliot-Curie
Quoted in Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

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The article on Frederic Joliot-Curie in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography was written by Francis Perrin, (17 Aug 1901-4 Jul 1992), who was a physicist (like his Nobel prize-winning father Jean Baptiste Perrin) and had worked with Joliot-Curie and thus knew him well. When the French atomic energy commission was established in 1946, Francis was made one of its directors. In 1951, Frédéric Joliot-Curie was dismissed as its High Commissioner of Atomic Energy, and replaced by Perrin. (With his wife, Irène, Frédéric had helped with its organization, and had been appointed chairman in 1946 by General de Gaulle. Frédéric had joined the Communist party in 1942, working closely with them on resistance activities during the war. Because of his continued association, for polital reasons, he was dismissed from serving as the high commissioner in Apr 1950.)

In his biographical article, Perrin described Joliot-Curie’s study of ionizing radiations emitted by radioactive substances, and the construction of the apparatus he used:

“Joliot used all this equipment with a fertile imagination and a keen sense of those experiments which might lead to the observation of unexpected phenomena.”

In particular, Perrin explained how discoveries were made because Joliot-Curie made the window of his experiment’s ionization chamber out of an aluminium foil a hundred times thinner than a more convenience thickness, which would have absorbed the radiation. Thus less energetic particles were instead made observable. Perrin quotes the words of Joliot-Curie written in 1954, analyzing the conditions of his success:

“I have always attached great importance to the manner in which an experiment is set up and conducted. It is, of course, necessary to start from a preconceived idea; but whenever it is possible, the experiment should be set up to open as many windows as possible on the unforeseen.”

This is translated from the original French which was: J’ai toujours attaché une grande importance à la façon dont est montée et conduite une expérience. Certes, il faut partir d'une idée préconçue, mais chaque fois que c’est possible, l’expérience doit être montée pour ouvrir le plus de fenêtres possibles sur ce qui n’est pas prévu.”1

1 Collected in Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Textes Choisis (1959), Vol. 3, 82. Also quoted in Michel Pinault, Frédéric Joliot-Curie (2000), 70, (published in French).

Text by Webmaster, with quote as translated in entry by Francis Perrin, 'Frédéric Joliot-Curie', in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 7, 153.

See also:
  • Science Quotes by Frederic Joliot-Curie.
  • 19 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Joliot-Curie's birth.
  • Frederic Joliot-Curie - context of quote “Open as many windows as possible on the unforeseen” - Large image (800 x 400 px)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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