Vita for Professor Lothar Schäfer
Some Highlights of the Material Presented in the full Vita:
- In the early 1980s, a part of my research group was involved with quantum chemical calculations of molecular structures using so called ‘ab initio’ procedures. Ab initio methods are quantum chemical methods, which make it possible to calculate the properties of molecules from first principles, such as the properties of atoms and their electrons. At that time, such calculations needed large computers and were very expensive, requiring millions of dollars of computing time to obtain just a few molecular structures.
Our first calculations led to some spectacular results: they were so precise that they revealed errors in a number of published experimental molecular structures.
(For an early summary, see ref. no. 99 in my vita.) Interestingly, the scientists whose work was corrected in this way didn’t hail the evolving computational possibilities as a promising development for structural chemistry, but they were upset by what they considered an illegitimate intrusion of theoretical methods in an empirical science.
- Also in the 1980s, members of my research group and I were able to perform the first ab initio quantum chemical calculations of the molecular structures of a peptide molecule. (See ref. no. 95 in my vita.) Peptide molecules are the building blocks of proteins. The results of our calculations led us to the conclusion that the structures of proteins, i.e., the bond lengths and bond angles within protein molecules, aren’t constant, as protein chemists at that time believed, but vary with the overall shape of a protein; for example, they are different in a coiled-up helix than in an extended protein form. The calculations were before their time, because such conformational structural variations had never been observed experimentally; for example, by protein crystallography. Thus, many protein crystallographers told me that I was wasting my time because quantum chemical calculations were useless for proteins. However, the true reason why the calculated structural trends hadn’t been observed wasn’t the inaccuracy of the computational methods, but the inability of the experimental methods of that time to observe the details of protein structures that we calculated.
During the next decade, when the experimental techniques improved, all of a sudden the experimental protein structures revealed the same details that we had predicted ten years earlier.
In 1995 we were able to show that the trends calculated ten years earlier were in complete agreement with the improved experimental structures (See, for example, refs. 213, 214 and 215 in my vita). Apart from practical applications, these findings are also important, because the structural trends emerge only in quantum chemical calculations, not in calculations based on classical physics. Thus, these structural features represent true quantum effects in proteins. This is in contrast to often heard claims by biologists that quantum theory doesn’t apply to biology, because the molecules of biology are too large to be quantum systems.
- In our experimental program, in the 1980s I was able to attract a team of excellent scientists who succeeded in developing the first so-called ‘real-time’ electron diffraction instrument, in which the electron diffraction data are recorded electronically and in real-time, rather than photographically as in conventional electron diffraction (see the photo on this page and references 134, 135, 143, 150 and 158 in my vita). Electron diffraction is a tool of structural chemistry, by which it is possible to observe the structures of molecules in the vapor phase.
The new instrument allowed new types of experiments in time-resolved studies of laser-excited molecules – called pump-and-probe experiments.
The first experiments of this kind ever performed are described in references 173, 191 and 197 in my vita. The historically first report on a successful pulsed beam gas electron diffraction experiment was reported by J.D. Ewbank, J.Y. Luo, J.T. English, W.L. Faust and L. Schäfer, in “Gas Electron Diffraction Employing a Pulsed Electron Beam,” Chemical Propulsion Information Agency, Publication 589, p. 503 (1992).
- Since the publication of my first book, “In Search of Divine Reality (University of Arkansas Press),” I have spent my time increasingly on public presentations of the philosophical, social and political implications of Quantum Physics.
I presented hundreds of invited lectures on these topics around the world (in Canada and the US; Argentina and Mexico; and in Europe in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden.)
I wrote numerous essays on these topics in English, French and German (see refs. 251 to 269). In 2006, Philip Hefner, then the editor of “Zygon. Journal of Religion and Science,” selected one of my essays as the basis of what he called a “Symposium.” He asked three prominent authors, Ervin Laszlo, Carl S. Helrich and Stanley A. Klein, to write a critical response to my essay, to which I then responded in turn. I rewrote and expanded “In Search of Divine Reality” in German, publishing “Versteckte Wirklichkeit. Wie uns die Quantenphysik zur Transzendenz führt (Hirzel Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany).” My third book, “Infinite Potential. What Quantum Physics reveals about how we should live,” will be published in April of 2013.