Dr. Ahmed Zewail - Life and Science
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…
Called the city of Damanhur in Egypt where Ahmed Zewail was born in 1946 to two loving parents and three sisters. As he grew up in the city of Disuq where the family had moved to, his love of learning was easy to see. His family had high hopes for the bright young boy and they did everything they could to encourage and support him. A sign reading "Dr. Ahmed" was optimistically placed on Ahmed's study door.
Determined to live up to his family's expectations and fulfill his own dreams, Ahmed studied and learned as much as he could. During his studies, Ahmed Zewail realized that he had a special love and affinity for chemistry (and physics where it intersected with chemistry).
In due time, Ahmed Zewail graduated from high school with excellent grades then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alexandria. He then became a Moeid i.e. a demonstrator and teacher for college undergraduates while he pursued a master's degree. Working as a Moeid made Ahmed realize how much he loved teaching and he came to the conclusion "that behind every universal phenomenon there must be beauty and simplicity in its description".
In eight short months, Ahmed Zewail earned his master's degree then, with encouragement from his professors, Ahmed decided to go to the United States to earn his doctorate. After corresponding with various universities in the United States, he was offered a much needed scholarship, with a monthly stipend, by several of the universities he had contacted.
Despite his limited English and the strangeness of the culture in the United States, Ahmed Zewail attended the University of Pennsylvania and successfully earned a doctorate degree in 1973. After some thought, he decided to stay in the United States and do some postdoctoral work. At this point, he moved on to the University of Berkeley then eventually received a fellowship at the California Institute of Technology in 1976.
Over the next few years, Ahmed Zewail received a great many honors and awards. The most notable of which are the:
- Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1979-1985) which is an award for those who demonstrate leadership in research and education and advance important knowledge in the chemical sciences.
- King Faisal International Prize in Science (1989). During the ceremony where this award was bestowed, Ahmed Zewail met Dema Faham who is the daughter of another honoree. The two were married later the same year.
- First Linus Pauling Chair at Caltech (1990).
- Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1993) for using ultrafast lasers in femtosecond (one quadrillionth, or one millionth of one billionth of a second) time which resolved measurements of the evolution of chemical reactions thereby obtaining the first direct observation of bond breakage in a molecule.
- Order of Merit, first class (Sciences & Arts), from President Mubarak (1995) in Egypt.
- Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry (1997) whose purpose is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of mankind.
- Benjamin Franklin Medal, Franklin Institute, USA (1998) whose purpose of the award is to identify individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe.
- Egypt Postage Stamps, with Portrait (1998) and the Fourth Pyramid (1999).
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1999) for developing a technique that uses flashes of laser light that last for a few femtoseconds. Femtochemistry is the area of physical chemistry that addresses the short time period in which chemical reactions take place and investigates why some reactions occur but not others. Dr. Zewail’s picture-taking technique made possible these investigations.
- Grand Collar of the Nile, Highest State Honor, conferred by President Mubarak (1999) which is awarded by Egypt for exceptional services to the nation.
Further honors Dr. Zewail received include the:
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow (1978-1982).
- Alexander von Humboldt Award for Senior United States Scientists (1983).
- National Science Foundation Award for especially creative research (1984; 1988; 1993).
- Buck-Whitney Medal, American Chemical Society (1985).
- John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow (1987).
- Harrison Howe Award, American Chemical Society (1989).
- Carl Zeiss International Award, Germany (1992).
- Earle K. Plyler Prize, American Physical Society (1993).
- Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Holland (1993).
- Bonner Chemiepreis, Germany (1994).
- Herbert P. Broida Prize, American Physical Society (1995).
- Leonardo Da Vinci Award of Excellence, France (1995).
- Collége de France Medal, France (1995).
- Peter Debye Award, American Chemical Society (1996).
- National Academy of Sciences Award, Chemical Sciences, USA (1996).
- J.G. Kirkwood Medal, Yale University (1996).
- Peking University Medal, PU President, Beijing, China (1996).
- Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award (1997).
- First E.B. Wilson Award, American Chemical Society (1997).
- Linus Pauling Medal Award (1997).
- Richard C. Tolman Medal Award (1998).
- William H. Nichols Medal Award (1998).
- Paul Karrer Gold Medal, University of Zürich, Switzerland (1998).
- E.O. Lawrence Award, U.S. Government (1998).
- Merski Award, University of Nebraska (1999).
- Röntgen Prize, (100th Anniversary of the Discovery of X-rays), Germany (1999).
He also received several honorary degrees including ones from:
- Oxford University, UK (1991): M.A., h.c.
- American University, Cairo, Egypt (1993): D.Sc., h.c.
- Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium (1997): D.Sc., h.c.
- University of Pennsylvania, USA (1997): D.Sc., h.c.
- Université de Lausanne, Switzerland (1997): D.Sc., h.c.
- Swinburne University, Australia (1999): D.U., h.c.
- Arab Academy for Science & Technology, Egypt (1999): H.D.A.Sc.
- Alexandria University, Egypt (1999): H.D.Sc.
- University of New Brunswick, Canada (2000): Doctoris in Scientia, D.Sc., h.c.
- Universita di Roma "La Sapienza", Italy (2000): D.Sc., h.c.
- Université de Liège, Belgium (2000): Doctor honoris causa, D., h.c.
In 2010 at the request of President Barack Obama, Dr. Ahmed Zewail, long since a naturalized U.S. citizen, became one of the first U.S. science envoys to Islam, visiting Muslim-majority countries from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
Due to the Egyptian protests in early 2011, Dr. Zewail returned to Egypt and met with both those opposing and those supporting then-President Mubarak in an attempt to mediate between the two factions. Dr. Zewail supported the opposition and called for Mubarak to step down to allow Egypt to move forward. He later worked as an intermediary between the ruling military regime and revolutionary youth groups as well as joining a group of intellectuals trying to draft constitutional reforms and smooth the Egyptian transition to democracy.
Interested in learning more about Dr. Ahmed Zewail and his work? Visit his website or read some of his books: Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize, Physical Biology: From Atoms to Medicine, 4d Electron Microscopy: Imaging in Space and Time, The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics and Photochemistry and Photobiology Volume One, Laser Chemistry Applications.
*Written by Aisha Bilal © 2011. Care to read or leave Comments?
- Names, Translations and Aliases:
- Ahmed Zewail: أحمد حسن زويل
- Ahmed Zewail: أحمد حسن زويل