Marguerite Perey

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Marguerite Perey
Marguerite Perey.jpg
Born(1909-10-19)19 October 1909
Villemomble near Paris, France
Died13 May 1975(1975-05-13) (aged 65)
Louveciennes, France
Known forFrancium discovery
AwardsLeconte Prize (1960)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorMarie Curie

Marguerite Catherine Perey (19 October 1909 – 13 May 1975) was a French physicist and a student of Marie Curie. In 1939, Perey discovered the element francium by purifying samples of lanthanum that contained actinium. In 1962, she was the first woman to be elected to the French Académie des Sciences, an honor denied to her mentor Curie. Perey died of cancer in 1975.[1]

Early life[edit]

Perey was born in 1909 in Villemomble, France, just outside Paris where the Curie's Radium Institute was located. Although she hoped to study medicine, the death of her father left the family in financial difficulties. She interviewed for a job with Marie Curie at the age of 19, and was hired.[2]

Work in chemistry[edit]

Perey spent a decade sifting out actinium from all the other components of uranium ore, which Curie then used in her study of the decay of the element. Although Curie died in 1934, the lab continued its study of actinium. A few years later Perey first noticed that the actinium she purified was emitting unexpected radiation. After further study she was able to isolate this new element which she named "francium" for France.[2]

Following the discovery, she received a grant to finally pursue her university studies, and received a PhD from the Sorbonne in 1946.[2] She was made the head of the department of nuclear chemistry at the University of Strasbourg in 1949 and continued her work on francium. She founded a laboratory that in 1958 became the Laboratory of Nuclear Chemistry in the Center for Nuclear Research, for which she served as director.[3] Ironically she hoped that francium would help diagnose cancer, but in fact it itself was carcinogenic, and Perey developed bone cancer which eventually killed her.[2]

Her archives with materials dating from 1929–1975 were left at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg. They include laboratory notebooks, course materials from her work as professor of nuclear chemistry, papers from her laboratory directorship, and publications.[3]. All documents are now currently held at the Archives départamentales du Bas-Rhin (Departamental archives of the Bas-Rhin).


  • "Sur un élément 87, dérivé de l'actinium," Comptes-rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences, 208: 97 (1939).
  • "Francium: élément 87," Bulletin de la Société chimique de France, 18: 779 (1951).
  • "On the Descendants of Actinium K: 87Ac223," Journal de Physique et le Radium, 17: 545 (1956).


  • 1929–34: Personal assistant (preparateur) to Marie Curie, Institut du Radium.
  • 1934–46: Radiochemist, Institut du Radium.
  • 1946–49: Maitre de Recherches, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut du Radium.
  • 1949: Professeur titulaire de la Chaire de Chimie Nucleaire, Universite de Strasbourg.
  • 1950–63: Member of the Atomic Weights Commission


  • Diplôme d'État de chimiste, École d'enseignement technique féminine, 1929
  • Doctorat des Sciences, Sorbonne, 1946


  • Officier of the Légion d'Honneur (1960)
  • Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris (1960)
  • Elected correspondante of the Académie des Sciences (Paris, 1962). First woman to be elected to the Académie since its founding in 1666.
  • Lavoisier Prize of the Académie des Sciences (1964)
  • Silver Medal of the Société Chimique de France (1964)
  • Commandeur of the Ordre National du Mérite (1974)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Francium" at
  2. ^ a b c d Veronique Greenwood (3 December 2014). "My Great-Great-Aunt Discovered Francium. It Killed Her". New York Times Magazine.
  3. ^ a b Hayes, Katherine A. (Spring 2005). "Documentation Preserved". AIP History Newsletter. XXXVII (1). Archived from the original on 2014-12-09.

Further reading[edit]