Carolina McGillafrillan – NRC

Carolina McGillafrillan - NRC

Students who sometimes have to go to the Amsterdam Science Park to give lectures will know him well. Carolina MacGillavrylaan, one of the capital’s most frequently misspelled street names, runs parallel to train tracks, separating North Water-Graffsmere from the university campus. Carolina MacGillavry (1904-1993) likely didn’t work in the area herself, but she devoted her life to science.

MacGillavry (“Mac” for colleagues, Lien for friends) was born in Amsterdam to hardworking parents, who were both teachers and a brain surgeon. I studied chemistry in the 1920s when quantum mechanics was still emerging.

The Amsterdam graduate received her PhD in crystallography and went on to specialize as a scientist, often in collaboration with JM Bijvoet (not like ir. Bijvoetbrug at Stopera). She developed the direct method: a new computational method that could speed up research into crystal structures – but had to discover that US researchers had discovered the same method a little earlier. From 1957 to 1972 she was a professor at the University of Amsterdam and also conducted physical research for Philips.

In 1950 McGillivray became the first Dutch woman to be a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) – and she took it very seriously. She served as the Academy’s Secretary General for thirteen years and after her retirement also represented KNAW at the International Science Foundation. A little earlier, Marie Curie and Irene Joliot-Curie were foreign members of KNAW, but McGillivray was the first “regular” Dutch member.

The researcher was interested in the work of Dutch artist MC E-scher since his childhood and brought him into contact with the natural sciences, from which he gained many contacts. Symmetries and frequency in particular in his work also proved interesting to crystallologists, metronomists, and mathematicians. In 1960, MacGillivray asked Escher to present his drawings at a crystallography conference in Cambridge, USA, which eventually helped introduce his art to the United States. She also wrote a book on Escher’s drawings.

When MacGillavry served as a professor at the UvA, this area was still primarily made up of allotments. The only research bastion among all these green spaces was the Nuclear Physics Research Institute. The street got its current name in 2004. In addition to a road, there are other things bearing the MacGillavry name: a fund for African scientists to obtain their Ph.D. and a recruitment program for female scientists at the UvA.

Jennifer Knuchel’s photo

Thanks to contributor John Hoogerwaard, who tips the editors for this column. Do you have a nice tip for yourself? For a street sign, square, bridge, park or little-known narrow alley in Amsterdam worth highlighting? The editors are happy to receive your suggestion! Send a mail to [email protected]

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