Ahmed Zewail

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Ahmed Zewail
Ahmed Zewail HD2009 Othmer Gold Medal portrait.JPG
Ahmed Zewail receiving the Othmer Gold Medal in 2009
Native name أحمد حسن زويل
Born Ahmed Hassan Zewail
(1946-02-26) February 26, 1946 (age 69)
Damanhour, Egypt
Nationality Egyptian, American
Alma mater
Thesis Optical and magnetic resonance spectra of triplet excitons and localized states in molecular crystals (1975)
Known for Femtochemistry
Notable awards

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 of Chemistry, Professor of Physics, and the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology [2] at the California Institute of Technology.[3][4][5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Ahmed Hassan Zewail, was born on February 26, 1946 in Damanhour, Egypt and was raised in Desouk.[7] 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.[8]

He received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Chemistry from the Alexandria University before moving to the United States to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania supervised by Robin M. Hochstrasser.[8] [9][10]


After completing his PhD, Zewail did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley supervised by Charles Bonner Harris.[10] Following this, 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.[10] 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.[11]


Zewail's key work has been as a pioneer of femtochemistry[3][12] [13] [14]—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.[15]

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.[8]


Political work[edit]

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.[16]

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."[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

In November 2012 Zewail discussed "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future” at UCSB Campbell Hall in Isla Vista, California.[20][21]

Awards and Honors[edit]

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".[22] 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,[23][24] the Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society and Davy Medal from the Royal Society in 2011.[25][26] He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2001.[1] 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.[27] 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.[28] 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 [29] His students include scientists like Martin Gruebele.[citation needed] He also has won the King Faisal award in 1989. The Zewail city of science and technology is named in his honour.

Zewail City land dispute case[edit]

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

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.[citation needed]

Zewail city of science and technology is currently undergoing research in many scientific disciplines with further undergoing expansion plans that include opening new labs and institutes.[citation needed]

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi decreed that the new campus be built by the Engineering Authority of the Egyptian Armed Forces and inaugurated in a one-year time frame. Zewail City’s University of Science and Technology and Research Institutes are now fully operational at the Sheikh Zayed campus. The headquarters is also fully functional in Cairo’s Garden City.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Zewail is married, and has four children.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660-2015". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-07-15. 
  2. ^ UST@Caltech
  3. ^ a b Ahmed Zewail's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  4. ^ Ahmed Zewail on Twitter
  5. ^ Ahmed Zewail and Femtochemistry
  6. ^ Zewail Nobel Prize lecture
  7. ^ أحمد زويل - نشأته وتعليمه Al-Ahram, 9 Dec. 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Zewail, Ahmed (2002). Voyage Through Time. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. p. 287. 
  9. ^ Zewail, Ahmed (1975). Optical and magnetic resonance spectra of triplet excitons and localized states in molecular crystals (PhD thesis). University of Pennsylvania. OCLC 54507972. 
  10. ^ a b c Zewail, Ahmed. "Autobiography". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  11. ^ "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. 
  12. ^ Douhal, Abderrazzak; Lahmani, Françoise; Zewail, Ahmed H. (1996). "Proton-transfer reaction dynamics". Chemical Physics 207 (2-3): 477–498. doi:10.1016/0301-0104(96)00067-5. ISSN 0301-0104. 
  13. ^ Pal, Samir Kumar; Zewail, Ahmed H. (2004). "Dynamics of Water in Biological Recognition". Chemical Reviews 104 (4): 2099–2124. doi:10.1021/cr020689l. ISSN 0009-2665. 
  14. ^ Zewail, Ahmed H. (2000). "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond†". The Journal of Physical Chemistry A 104 (24): 5660–5694. doi:10.1021/jp001460h. ISSN 1089-5639. 
  15. ^ "Press Release: The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  16. ^ America.gov[dead link]
  17. ^ Zewail: I have no political ambitions .. I would like service of Egypt a scientist only
  18. ^ ANSAmed (1 February 2011). "EGYPT: ZEWAIL RETURNS, CREDIBLE POST-MUBARAK FIGURE". ANSAmed. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future". University of California Television. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  21. ^ "Technology’s Promise, Humanity’s Future". Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  22. ^ "Angewandte Chemie International Edition > Vol 39 Issue 15". Wiley Online Library. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "Past Winners of the Othmer Gold Medal". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  24. ^ "Chemical Heritage Foundation Presents Ahmed Zewail with Othmer Gold Medal". Chromatography Techniques. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  25. ^ "Zewail Wins 2011 Priestley Medal", Chemical & Engineering News, p 5, June 21, 2010.
  26. ^ "Royal Society announces 2011 Copley Medal recipient". The Royal Society. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  27. ^ "Albert Einstein World Award of Science 2006". Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  28. ^ Kheetan, Thameen (26 February 2009). "Egyptian Nobel laureate calls for ‘scientific renaissance’ in Arab world". Jordan Times. Retrieved 2009-02-28. 
  29. ^ Professor Ahmed Zewail, Linus Chair of Chemistry and Physics at the California Institute of Technology, was awarded an honorary degree from University of Glasgow on YouTube