Alumni News – Peter R. Ogilby

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Prof. Peter Ogilby

Alumnus Professor Peter R. Ogilby (Ph.D. ‘81, C. S. Foote group) has been “knighted” by Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, for his 27 years of service at Aarhus University in Denmark and contributions to science.

The honor was a surprise for Ogilby who is an American citizen. Ogilby will retire and become Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the end of June 2023, after 45 years of university-based teaching and research, the last 27 of which have been spent at Aarhus University.

“I have many fond memories of my four years in Los Angeles and am grateful for the chemistry education I received,” Ogilby said.

Ogilby received his undergraduate degree (B. A.) in 1977 from the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His senior honors thesis was based on research that he did in Professor Howard E. Zimmerman’s group. “Howard was an excellent mentor for undergraduate students,” Ogilby said. “He was patient, pedagogical, and genuinely cared for my training in chemistry.  It was exposure to Howard’s work that got me interested in Photochemistry.”

At one point, when Ogilby was thinking about graduate school in chemistry, UCLA Professor Orville Chapman, a trailblazer in photochemistry, came to Wisconsin to deliver a series of lectures. Zimmerman gave Ogilby one full hour in Chapman’s schedule. “At the half-hour mark, Howard walked into the room, punched me on the shoulder and told Orville that he better accept me into the graduate program at UCLA,” Ogilby recalled. “Needless to say, I went home breathless that evening.”

Upon arriving at UCLA in the fall of 1977,  Ogilby knew that he wanted to focus on physical aspects of photochemistry. Professor Chris Foote quickly convinced him that he could do things with oxygen using Professor Mostafa El-Sayed’s lasers. “In one of my first meetings with Chris, before I joined his group, he suggested that I could learn much about oxygen by coming to a lecture he was giving in honor of an UCLA award he had just received,” Ogilby recalled. “I slept through his lecture, not understanding a thing.  I then joined his group the next day.”

Over the next three years Ogilby spent much of his time doing laser-based experiments to quantify the lifetime of singlet oxygen in organic solvents.  The bulk of his 1981 Ph.D. dissertation appeared in a Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) paper published over a year after he had left UCLA.1 

“While at UCLA, Bill Gelbart was kind and patient enough to try and explain many of the fundamental concepts of nonradiative transitions to me (that is what he was doing at the time).  I suspect he thought he was talking to a brick; an assessment that has much credence.  Indeed, it has taken me almost 40 years to finally resolve many of the issues left unanswered in that early JACS paper from UCLA.2, 3” 

Professor Peter Ogilby (left) with Professor Chris Foote in 1981.

“I recall this photo with Chris was taken the week that I left UCLA to drive up the road for my postdoctoral fellowship at UC-Berkeley,” Ogilby recalled. “Chris needed a photo for his page in the UCLA faculty brochure, and I guess he decided to pretend to be a physical chemist for the picture.  This photo was taken in Mostafa El-Sayed’s lab where I did all my experimental work (Mostafa was the only one in the department at that time that had the necessary lasers).”

For a postdoc, Ogilby decided that he needed to learn about photophysics from the perspective of an experimental laser-based physical chemist, and Professor Brad Moore at UC-Berkeley was kind enough to offer him a position. “There is no doubt that my interactions with Brad’s group were a one-way street: I learned more than I gave,” Ogilby said.

After Berkeley, Ogilby took a position as a tenure track assistant professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the fall of 1983.  Rising through the ranks, he was promoted to professor in 1993.  In 1996, he decided to accept an offer from Aarhus University, and moved to Denmark to start all over.

(1)   Ogilby, P. R.; Foote, C. S. Chemistry of Singlet Oxygen. 42. The Effect of Solvent, Solvent Isotopic Substitution, and Temperature on the Lifetime of Singlet Molecular Oxygen. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1983, 105, 3423-3430.

(2)   Thorning, F.; Jensen, F.; Ogilby, P. R. Modeling the Effect of Solvents on Nonradiative Singlet Oxygen Deactivation: Going beyond Weak Coupling in Intermolecular Electronic-to-Vibrational Energy Transfer. J. Phys. Chem. B 2020, 124, 2245-2254.

(3)   Thorning, F.; Henke, P.; Ogilby, P. R. Perturbed and Activated Decay: The Lifetime of Singlet Oxygen in Liquid Organic Solvents. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2022, 144, 10902-10911.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,