16 February 2024

Helle Kiilerich (1943-2024)

It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Helle Kiilerich, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to Helle's family. The world has lost a remarkable human being, who has left a lasting imprint on the physics community.

Helle Kiilerich

Helle was employed at Nordita from 1964 until it moved to Stockholm at the beginning of 2007. For all at Nordita and for the numerous visitors over the years, Helle was the face of the institute: she was the first person one met on arrival, she enjoyed interacting with and helping the unusual crowd of characters in theoretical physics, and had a broad and very healthy commitment to what it meant to be service-minded.

Her attitude was that one should do everything possible to help scientists with their practical problems, whether they be tax matters, finding housing, or just plain good Danish taste regarding furniture. She excelled at finding solutions to complex problems, and formal job descriptions were not for her. She had an intense dislike for unnecessary bureaucracy (and bureaucrats in general) and she never took no for an answer if it was based on ridiculous or self-imposed rules. Her mantra was "we will find a solution". Some sense of this can be obtained from the collection of reminiscences in the book about Nordita's time in Copenhagen to be found here.

Initially Helle was employed as a secretary, but she continued to educate herself, first at Danmarks Forvaltningsh¿jskole (Danish School of Public Administration), where she developed financial and administrative skills, and later at the University of Copenhagen, where she obtained a master's degree in political science with a thesis which analysed letters to the editor and the way they are selected in the media.

Visitors to Nordita who were to be reimbursed for expenses were surprised how simple it was: one just went to Helle's office where she did the calculations and then took cash from Nordita's huge safe. No waiting for months for a cheque! Despite the piles of paper on Helle's desk, she had a very clear overview of the important issues.

Helle enjoyed greatly the international atmosphere and Nordita, and she took part in the first international conference that Nordita arranged, in Trondheim in 1967. She had a strong conviction of the importance of Nordic cooperation, and she corresponded with many former fellows, staff members and visitors long after they left Nordita.

Following Nordita's move to Stockholm in 2007, Helle became coordinator of the Niels Bohr International Academy (NBIA), where she made her long experience with running Nordita available to the fledgling institution. A new generation of young physicists from abroad came under her wings.

Following her retirement from NBIA, she became affiliated with the Niels Bohr Archive, where her main project was the book about Nordita referred to above, to which she contributed two chapters on Nordita's history. She was deeply interested in the history of physics and nuclear technology in the Nordic world, and especially in the personal networks that had an abiding impact on the development of science, including that of Niels Bohr, Torsten Gustafson, Tage Erlander and others. Helle's devoted efforts will provide inspiration for future studies.