P.-O. Löwdin and the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: A kaleidoscopic agenda for quantum chemistry



This is a article about P.-O. Löwdin's life, his work in shaping quantum chemistry into a mature discipline at the intersection of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, and his founding of the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry in 1967. Unavoidably, it is, also, a article reflecting our views about the history of quantum chemistry. We attempt to convey the complexities in the becoming of a subdiscipline, like quantum chemistry, where a variety of factors will have to be taken into consideration for a comprehensive understanding of its historical developments: the relations of chemists to the Heisenberg-Schrödinger formulation of quantum mechanics after 1926, the institutional dynamics centered around the establishment of new courses and chairs, the research agendas and the vying for dominance within the community of quantum chemists, the methodological, and philosophical issues that have never left the quantum chemists indifferent, and, of course, the dramatic role of the computer in transforming the culture for actually practicing quantum chemistry. Furthermore, attracted by American history, culture, and ways of life, Löwdin suggested in the late 1970s that the post-WWII character of quantum chemistry was dependent on its ability to hub a “scientific melting pot,” much like the United States of America which he viewed as a fusion of people from diverse provenances and cultures. In this article, we attempt to investigate another metaphor, that of the “kaleidoscope.” Löwdin believed that quantum chemistry's strength arose from its ability to nurture a multiplicity of heterogeneous cultural elements/subcultures and practices, interacting with each other, exchanging perspectives and modes of action, which circulated in an increasingly extended network of actors and institutional frameworks. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.