Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 2005
Richard N. Zare
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Stanford University, USA
“for his ingenious applications of laser techniques, for identifying complex mechanisms in molecules, and their use in analytical chemistry”.
In making seminal contributions to the theory and practice of both physical and analytical chemistry, Professor Zare has profoundly influenced developments in these two areas of science. He is an outstanding spokesman for science. In addition to his eminent contributions, he has worked relentlessly and successfully for chemistry on the national and international stage.
Zare’s highly productive scientific career has been built around two recurrent themes: the use of lasers for probing details of how electrons distribute themselves within atoms and molecules, and hence dictate their chemical properties; and the application of high resolution and ultra-sensitive physical techniques, to both biochemical, and chemical analysis. A fundamental understanding of electronic configurations in molecules, led to pioneering work in chemical dynamics and energy-induced molecular fragmentations. Zare’s inventions and discoveries have generated an impressive collection of new spectroscopic tools, for scientific communities investigating chemical dynamics and studying biochemical processes. His research also initiated the development of a series of novel techniques in applied physical chemistry. These techniques have become indispensable to progress in chemical and biochemical analysis, particularly in relation to detection at the single-molecule, area-selective, and sub-cellular levels.
Zare’s seminal contributions include the angular analysis of photodissociation fragments, laser-induced fluorescence and chemiluminescence, to probe internal state distributions, multiphoton ionization in molecular beams, and two-step laser mass spectrometry. A major thrust of his research has been the use of photochemical techniques to select reactants, enhance specific reactions, and probe chemical processes at the single-molecule level. Of particular importance, is the fact that laser-induced fluorescence, led to the use of lasers as detectors in capillary electrophoresis, and subsequently in numerous biological systems, where Zare, for example, coupled laser fluorescence with the detection of molecules in mammalian cells.
He has pursued the themes of very efficient separation and ultra-sensitive detection, to their chemical limit, namely the single molecule. He has also demonstrated that, at sufficiently high levels of power, he could carry out optical trapping of single molecules – once again demonstrating the ultimate limit of this technique in chemistry.
There is no doubt that Zare has taken chemistry to its limits, in more ways than one.