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Inga Fischer-Hjalmars – early female role model in QC

A wide variety of questions can be asked about the molecules that compose the physical reality around us and constitute biological life. Some of these questions are answered by the science called biology, others find their answer in chemistry, whereas the answers to the most fundamental questions are only to be found in the theories of physics. Inga Fischer-Hjalmars (born Fischer) belonged to the rare group of scientists who asked questions of all these kinds. Her life and career is a fascinating story of devotion, strive, and an unyielding curiosity about nature. As a young pharmacist, she had a central role in the development of the local anesthetic Xylocaine (also known as lidocaine), which became one of the most successful inventions ever made in Sweden. But the major part of her career was dedicated to explain the biological, chemical, and physical properties of molecules using the most fundamental principles available: quantum mechanics. Inga Fischer-Hjalmars was a pioneer in applying quantum mechanics to chemical problems, and she became the first female professor in theoretical physics in Sweden. In the forties she wrote a landmark paper together with Charles Coulson on the nature of the chemical bond in the hydrogen molecule. During the fifties she made very accurate calculations on the ozone molecule, showing for the first time the multi-configurational nature of its wave function. Later on she focused on the development and application of semi-empirical methods for the study of metal-containing bio-molecules. Beside her scientific work, Inga Fischer-Hjalmars was a human rights activist dedicated to the freedom of scientists in the Soviet Union. For this engagement, she was awarded with the New York Academy of Science’s Human Rights Award in 1990.

Adam Johannes Johansson, Dr.