Ahmed El Goresy, 1934–2019

Ahmed El Goresy

Credit: Bayerisches Geoinstitut

Ahmed El Goresy died at his home in Heidelberg on October 3, 2019, at the age of 85. El Goresy was a highly regarded mineralogist with a worldwide reputation. His research focused on minerals and mineral assemblages of extraterrestrial samples. With his major tool, reflected light microscopy, he studied meteorite samples from asteroids, the Moon, and Mars, as well as lunar rocks and terrestrial impactites. He was a pioneer in complementing his microscopic findings by using scanning electron microscopy, the electron microprobe, and later the ion probe and Raman spectroscopy. He made numerous discoveries of shock-induced high-pressure phases in meteorites and samples from terrestrial impact craters, and detected unusual mineral assemblages in a variety of meteorite types, studying their chemistry and isotopic composition. With his work he significantly contributed to a better understanding of cosmochemical processes in the early solar system.

El Goresy obtained his B.Sc. in 1955 in Mineralogy and Petrology at the University of Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt. In 1961, he received his Ph.D. for work on ore deposits by using ore microscopy. His supervisor was the famous pioneer of ore microscopy, Paul Ramdohr at the University of Heidelberg. El Goresy was Ramdohr’s last and best student. In 1969, Ramdohr became principal investigator of NASA’s lunar sample analysis program. El Goresy was his co-investigator, and eventually took over as principal investigator. El Goresy and Ramdohr made fundamental contributions to the study of opaque mineralogy and phase assemblages of lunar mare basalts as well as highland rocks, estimating temperature and oxygen fugacity during crystallization of lunar mare basalts.

In 1961, he briefly returned to Egypt, taking a research position in Cairo. In 1963, he became a research scientist at the Max-Planck Institut für Kernphysik in Heidelberg. He then spent some months as a guest scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Harvard University before taking a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. After his return to Germany, he became a senior scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik in Heidelberg and later Professor at the Universität Heidelberg. In 1998 he officially retired from his position in Heidelberg and moved to the cosmochemistry department of the Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie in Mainz. After closure of the cosmochemistry department in 2005, El Goresy moved to the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth, where he stayed active until August 2017.

In scientific meetings, El Goresy was very outspoken. He clearly stated his opinion and never avoided discussion of controversial issues. He was extremely enthusiastic about his research, and it was almost impossible to talk to him about things other than his own research. He was so excited about his findings that in his talks he would often exceed the time limit; his contributions in meetings and discussions will be missed.

El Goresy had about 25 students, many of whom have made a career in science. The first thing he always taught his students was to look through a microscope, as the basis of any further work. El Goresy saw features in thin sections others did not see. His knowledge of minerals, particularly opaque minerals, was enormous and because he was familiar with all relevant phase relations, he could immediately explain these or speculate on the origin of the observed mineral assemblage.

El Goresy served the scientific community as Council Member of the Meteoritical Society; Chairman of the International Commission on Cosmic Mineralogy of the International Mineralogical Association; and United Nations Visiting Professor at the Institute of Mineral Deposits of the Chinese Academy of Geology, Beijing, China. He participated in the NASA Lunar and Planetary Science Review Board, and was awarded with the Victor-Moritz Goldschmidt Award and the Abraham-Gottlob-Werner Medal of the German Mineralogical Society. In 1972, he became a fellow of the Meteoritical Society, and was the recipient of the Leonard Medal in 2013. He was invited as Fairchild Distinguished Scholar in 1983 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and was a guest Professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris in 1994, and more recently at the Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, and at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

With the passing of El Goresy, the Meteoritical Society has lost a highly motivated researcher with extraordinary abilities. He dedicated his work to the observation and interpretation of microstructures in meteorites and was one of the key drivers for progress in the field of cosmochemistry. Scientists like him have become rare.

— Text courtesy of Herbert Palme and The Meteoritical Society