Magdolna Hargittai


Chemistry Professor (and my Dad!) Jack Levy contributed this post about his Hungarian collaborator, Magdolna (Magdi) Hargittai.  The picture above is of Magdi as a PhD student in 1970 during an electron diffraction experiment.

In the late 1990s, Magdi was a visiting research scientist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I am a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry.  She was doing high-level quantum chemical calculations on various metal halide molecules using computational methods.  She taught me how to apply these methods to some organic phosphorus compounds of interest to me.  We published on that work in collaboration with her husband, Istvan.

We continued to collaborate on her metal halide work over several years.  Magdi is extremely knowledgeable and meticulous in her work.  If we solved a problem with one method, she would want to test the result with even more involved calculations.

I remember Magdi saying that early in her career she and her husband were both working in the same lab on molecular structure determination using electron diffraction. An administrator suggested that they couldn’t both work in the same lab, so her husband immediately offered to find a new position.  That was the end of the problem and they continued to work together.  They raised two children, Balazs and Eszter, who are both now professors.  Magdi is now officially a STEM grandmother to Balazs’s children.

In 1996 Magdi received the Széchenyi State Prize of Hungary with her husband.  In 2010 she became a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, a rare distinction, especially for women.  She is also member of the Academia Europaea, London (since 2006).  She and her husband together received the Annual Science Communication Award of the Club of Hungarian Science Journalists in 2011 and a small planet was named after them. She also received the Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award from IUPAC in 2011.

She has published widely; over 150 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals; has written 12 books, both scientific and popular; among them Symmetry through the Eyes of a Chemist, 3rd Edition, Springer, 2009, Visual Symmetry, World Scientific, 2006, In Our Own Image: Personal Symmetry in Discovery, Plenum, 2000 (with her husband), Cooking the Hungarian Way, 2nd Edition, Lerner, 2002.  She also edited 11 volumes and has written about 50 articles in popular science magazines.  She writes a column for Természet Világa (The World of Nature). She is interested in the question of women in science and has given lectures on women in science all over the world.  She has interviewed over 100 prominent women scientists and now is working on a book on this topic; she wants to give role models to all young women interested in a science career.


Magdi chairing an international conference in 2011.

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2 Responses to Magdolna Hargittai

  1. Pingback: Ada Yonath | Grandma Got STEM

  2. Pingback: Isabella Karle | Grandma Got STEM

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