Virtual Issue in Memory of Ahmed Zewail

This editorial originally appeared in the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, B, and C.

We were sad to hear that our good friend Ahmed Zewail passed away August 2, 2016. Zewail was a giant in the field of physical chemistry, having led the world starting in the 1980s in the application of femtosecond lasers to chemical problems, and more recently in time-resolved electron imaging. He won the Nobel Prize in 1999, as well as many other awards, including the ACS Priestley Medal in 2011. It is noteworthy that Zewail’s contributions to education and policy were equally important to his science, including the founding of a university in Egypt, and his role in building scientific research in the Middle East. The Zewail City for Science and Technology in Cairo, Egypt, was instituted by Zewail and paid for by the people of Egypt to help him in his efforts to return the importance of science and technology to that which was present during the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Zewail was a Senior Editor of the Journal of Physical Chemistry in the 1980s. This was a time of significant growth of the Journal, as JPC evolved to become the dominant physical chemistry journal, and Zewail’s leadership was important to this process. Later he played an even more important role as Editor of Chemical Physics Letters, and we are delighted to see that CPL is doing a special issue for him. For our part, we have compiled this Virtual Issue in his honor, including 25 of his most important papers published in the JPC. A brief commentary on each of these papers is given below. We hope that this compendium will help illustrate the exciting work that Zewail contributed, including both the breadth and depth of his accomplishments.

Zewail published a total of 83 papers in the JPC, spanning the time from the early 1980s to very recently. It is especially note-worthy that during his period of peak creativity in femtochemistry, from the late 1980s through the early 2000s he published 5−10 papers each year in the journal, including many papers that can be considered classics in the femtochemistry field. The papers we have chosen span the time 1984−2007, during which time Zewail transitioned from doing picosecond to femtosecond experiments, and the experiments evolved from gas phase isolated molecule studies, to dynamics in clusters, and then to ultrafast processes in liquids and in biological systems. Also, starting in the 1990s, Zewail initiated experiments in ultrafast electron diffraction, and after 2006 this topic, including crystallography and imaging, dominated in his publications.

Check out the Virtual Issue for access to 25 of Zewail’s most important papers, along with short descriptions of each.