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Ahmed Zewail

Ahmed Zewail
Ahmed Zewail receiving the Othmer Gold Medal in 2009
Born Ahmed Hassan Zewail
(1946-02-26) February 26, 1946 (age 69)
Damanhour, Egypt
Nationality Egyptian, American
Fields Chemistry, physics
Institutions California Institute of Technology
Alma mater University of Alexandria, University of Pennsylvania
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Known for Femtochemistry
Notable awards Peter Debye Award (1996)
E. Bright Wilson Award (1997)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1999)

Order of the Nile (1999)
E. O. Lawrence Award (1998)
The Franklin Medal (USA) (1998)
Paul Karrer Gold Medal (1998)
Tolman Award (1997)
Wolf Prize (Israel) (1993)
Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2006)
Othmer Gold Medal (2009)
Priestley Medal (USA) (2011)
Davy Medal (2011)

Ahmed Hassan Zewail (Arabic: أحمد حسن زويل‎, IPA: [ˈæħmæd ˈħæsæn zeˈweːl]; born February 26, 1946) is an Egyptian scientist, known as the "father of femtochemistry", he won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on femtochemistry and became the first Egyptian scientist to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. He is the Linus Pauling Chair Professor Chemistry, Professor of Physics and the director of the Physical Biology Centre for the Ultrafast Science and Technology (UST)[1] at the California Institute of Technology.

Birth and education

Ahmed Hassan Zewail, was born on February 26, 1946 in Damanhour, Egypt and was raised in Desouk.[2] His father Hassan assembled bicycles and motorcycles and later became a government official. His parents stayed married for 50 years, till the death of his father in October 22, 1992.[3]

He received a bachelor's and an MS degree in Chemistry from the Alexandria University before moving to the United States to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania with advisor Robin M. Hochstrasser.[3] He later completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley with advisor Charles B. Harris.[4]

Academic career

After completing his post doctoral work at UC-Berkeley, he was awarded a faculty appointment at the California Institute of Technology in 1976, where he has remained since 1990, he was made the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics.[4] He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1982.

Zewail has been nominated and will participate in President Barack Obama's Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group of the nation's leading scientists and engineers to advise the President and Vice President and formulate policy in the areas of science, technology, and innovation.[5]


Zewail's key work has been as a pioneer of femtochemistry—i.e. the study of chemical reactions across femtoseconds. Using a rapid ultrafast laser technique (consisting of ultrashort laser flashes), the technique allows the description of reactions on very short time scales - short enough to analyse transition states in selected chemical reactions.[6]

His work started with the question, how fast did the energy within an isolated large molecule like naphthalene redistribute among all the atomic motions? They had to build an apparatus with a vacuum chamber for molecules coming out of the source as a collimated beam at supersonic speed. The challenge was to build an ultrafast laser to be used with the molecular beam. The beam and the picosecond laser system were interfaced. The goal of the project began as wanting to directly measure the rate of vibrational-energy redistribution for an isolated molecule using the picosecond laser.

They wanted to see the process from birth to death of a molecule. In this experiment the isolated anthracene molecule was unexpected and contrary to popular wisdom. During redistribution the population was oscillating coherently back and forth. There was no decay, but there was rebirth and all molecules moved coherently in a phase. In a large molecule, each vibrational motion is like a pendulum, but there are many motions because a molecules has many atoms. If the motions were not coherent, the observation would have been much different.

The results of this experiment revealed the significance of coherence and its existence in complex molecular systems. The finding of coherence were significant because it showed that through the expected chaotic motions in molecules, ordered motion can be found, despite the presence of a "heat sink", which can destroy coherence and drain energy. Coherence in molecules had not been observed before not because of a lack of coherence, but because of a lack of proper probes. In the anthracene experiments, time and energy resolutions were introduced and correlated.

Though Zewail continued studies on vibrational-energy redistributions, he started new studies on shorter time resolutions for molecules showing different chemical processes and rotational motions.[3]

Awards and Honours

In 1999, Zewail became the third Egyptian national to receive the Nobel Prize. Zewail gave his Nobel Lecture on "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers".[7] His prize was following Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat (1978 in Peace), Naguib Mahfouz (1988 in Literature). Mohamed ElBaradei followed him (2005 in peace). Other international awards include the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1993) awarded to him by the Wolf Foundation, the Tolman Medal (1997), the Robert A. Welch Award (1997), the Othmer Gold Medal in 2009,[8][9] the Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society and Davy Medal from the Royal Society in 2011.[10][11] In 1999, he received Egypt's highest state honor, the Grand Collar of the Nile.

Zewail was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lund University in Sweden in May 2003 and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Cambridge University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science in 2006. In October 2006, Zewail received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science for his pioneering development of the new field femtoscience and for 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.[12] In May 2008, Zewail received an honorary doctorate from Complutense University of Madrid. In February, 2009, Zewail was awarded an honorary doctorate in arts and sciences by the University of Jordan.[13] In May 2010, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Southwestern University. in October/2011 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Glasgow, UK [14] His students include scientists like Martin Gruebele

Zewail is married, and has four children. He also has won the King Faisal award in 1989.

Political work

In June 4, 2009 speech at Cairo University, US President Barack Obama announced a new Science Envoy program as part of a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." In January 2010, Ahmed Zewail, Elias Zerhouni, and Bruce Alberts became the first US science envoys to Islam, visiting Muslim-majority countries from North Africa to Southeast Asia.[15]

When asked about rumors that he might contest the 2011 Egyptian presidential election, Ahmed Zewail said: "I am a frank man... I have no political ambition, as I have stressed repeatedly that I only want to serve Egypt in the field of science and die as a scientist."[16]

During the 2011 Egyptian protests he announced his return to the country. Zewail said that he would join a committee for constitutional reform alongside Ayman Nour, Mubarak's rival at the 2005 presidential elections and a leading lawyer.[17] Zewail was later mentioned as a respected figure working as an intermediary between the military regime ruling after Mubarak's resignation, and revolutionary youth groups such as the April 6 Youth Movement and young supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei.[18]

In November 2012 Zewail discussed "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future” at UCSB Campbell Hall in Isla Vista, California. [19][20]

Zewail City land dispute case

Nile University has been fighting with Zewail City of Science and Technology, established by Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, for more than two years over a piece of land that both universities claim to be their own.

A March 22, 2014 ruling turned down challenges to a verdict issued in April 2013 submitted by Zewail City. The court also ruled in favour of the return of Nile University students to the contested buildings.

In a statement released by Nile University’s Student Union before Saturday’s decision, the students stated that the verdict would test the current government’s respect to the judiciary and its rulings.

Zewail City, meanwhile, stressed in a statement released on Saturday that the recent verdict rules on an urgent level; the substantive level of the case is yet to be ruled on. Sherif Fouad, Zewail City’s spokesman and media adviser, said the verdict “adds nothing new.” It is impossible for Zewail City to implement Saturday’s verdict and take Nile University students into the buildings currently occupied by Zewail City students, he said.[21]


See also

Ali Moustafa Mosharafa

Sameera Moussa

List of Muslim Nobel Laureates


  1. ^ The Physical Biology Centre for the Ultrafast Science and Technology (UST) website.
  2. ^ أحمد زويل - نشأته وتعليمه Al-Ahram, 9 Dec. 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Zewail, Ahmed (2002). Voyage Through Time. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. p. 287. 
  4. ^ a b Zewail, Ahmed. "Autobiography". Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "President Obama Announces Members of Science and Technology Advisory Council". The White House. Archived from the original on 12 February 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  6. ^ "Press Release: The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  7. ^ "Angewandte Chemie International Edition > Vol 39 Issue 15". Wiley Online Library. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Past Winners of the Othmer Gold Medal". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "Chemical Heritage Foundation Presents Ahmed Zewail with Othmer Gold Medal". Chromatography Techniques. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  10. ^ "Zewail Wins 2011 Priestley Medal", Chemical & Engineering News, p 5, June 21, 2010.
  11. ^ "Royal Society announces 2011 Copley Medal recipient". The Royal Society. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "Albert Einstein World Award of Science 2006". Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  13. ^ Kheetan, Thameen (26 February 2009). "Egyptian Nobel laureate calls for ‘scientific renaissance’ in Arab world". Jordan Times. Retrieved 2009-02-28. 
  14. ^ Video on YouTube
  15. ^
  16. ^ Zewail: I have no political ambitions .. I would like service of Egypt a scientist only
  17. ^ ANSAmed (1 February 2011). "EGYPT: ZEWAIL RETURNS, CREDIBLE POST-MUBARAK FIGURE". ANSAmed. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  18. ^ Fahim, Kareem; Kirkpatrick, David D. (February 12, 2011). "Military Offers Assurances to Egypt and Neighbors". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 February 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  19. ^ "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future". University of California Television. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  20. ^ "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future". Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  21. ^

External links

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