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Remembering Ahmed Zewail on His Birth Anniv.


Sun 26 Feb 2023 | 03:47 PM
Ahmed Emam

Today marks the birth anniversary of renowned Egyptian scientist Ahmed Zewail.

His name is immortalized in the history of science by concepts and terms like femtosecond and laser technology.

Zewail is also well-known for some of his seminal contributions to the revolutionary discipline of physical biology, creating new ways for better understanding the functional behavior of biological systems by directly visualizing them in the four dimensions of space and time.

He was born on February 26, 1946, in the town of Damanhur in the Nile Delta, and grew up in Alexandria.

Further, he had earned his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Alexandria before joining a PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Later on, the remarkable scientist worked as a teacher assistant at the University of California, Berkely but moved to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1976.

In the 1980s, the ambitious young man was a professor of chemical physics, and in 1995 he was appointed Linus Pauling professor of chemistry and professor of physics, positions he held until his death.

In late 1989, Zewail married Dr Dema Faham. He had four children: two daughters, Maha and Amani, from his first marriage, and with Faham two sons, Nabeel and Hani.

In 1991, the successful professor enthralled members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain with his scintillating account of his laser femtochemistry work.

In the 1990s, Zewail became the first Egyptian and the first Arab to receive a science Nobel Prize when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In the same vein, Zewail gave his Nobel Lecture on "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers".

From 1996 to 2007 he was the official director of the National Science Foundation’s laboratory for molecular sciences at Caltech; and from 2005 onwards the director of the Center for Physical Biology, also at Caltech.

Furthermore, he was the recipient of numerous awards and an honorary doctor of 46 universities – he was one of the few (along with Mendeleev, Marie Curie and Michael Faraday) to hold honorary doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge.

In October 2006, Zewail received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science.

Moreover, the prominent Arabic scientist was a foreign member of the Royal Society and most other national academies.

In 2009 the US president Barack Obama appointed Zewail to his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and in the same year, he became the first US science envoy to the Middle East.

In 2013, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, invited Zewail to join the UN Scientific Advisory Board.

Zewail was passionately concerned for the economically disadvantaged people, especially the millions of children in various parts of the world who receive no education; and he made strenuous efforts to foster education and the establishment of centers of excellence in the Arab world, especially in his native Egypt.

The Zewail City of Science and Technology in 6th October city was created in 2000 and its inauguration in 2011 and its completion demanded a great deal of energy on his part.

Indeed, he believed that Zewail City could raise the hopes of his compatriots, just as the creation of the Aswan Dam had done in the 1960s.

According to Britannica.com, Zewail was decorated with the Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile, Egypt’s highest state honor. For several years, he played a leading role in the L’Oréal/UNESCO prize for women in science.

In addition to his technical skills, virtuosity and the profundity of his intellectual understanding, he had a prodigality of output and a general celerity of action.

Unfortunately, he died aged 70 on the morning of August 2, 2016. The renowned scientist was recovering from cancer, however, the exact cause of his death is unknown.