Ahmed Zewail


Ahmed Hassan Zewail is an Egyptian scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999 – the first of his race to win such accolade in the field of Science. He is known to be the Father of femtochemistry because of his marvelous works in the area of Physical Chemistry. Zewail is a Physics professor, the Linus Pauling Chair Professor in Chemistry and the Physical Biology Centre director for the UST or the Ultrafast Science and Technology at the prestigious school of California Institute of Technology. Ahmed Zewail is a true living legacy of Science, technology, and innovation that he made his tools into helping Egypt progress as a society in any generation.

Personal Life and Education

Ahmed Zewail came to life in Damanhour, Egypt on the 26th of February, 1946. He was raised in Alexandria by his parents, his father being a mechanic who assembled motorcycles and bicycles and later won a spot in the government local service. His parents were happily married for 50 years, until Hassan, his father died on the 22nd of October, 1992.

Zewail spent educating himself at the University of Alexandria by getting his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree before moving to the United Sates to finish his Doctorate (PhD) degree under his mentor, Robin Hochstrasser at the University of Pennsylvania. He did not move from Egypt to the United States alone because he had with him his wife whom he met while studying at the University of Alexandria. Ahmed then completed his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and they had their first born child. Together with his advisor, Charles B. Harris at the University of California, Berkeley, Zewail was able to complete a post-doctoral fellowship.

Early Career

After Zewail had some post doctorate activities and works at the University of California, Berkeley, he was granted a position as a faculty at Caltech in the year 1976, where he devoted his time and effort, since, and by the year 1990, he was chosen and awarded the first ever Linus Pauling Chair Professor in Chemical Physics. It was in 1982 that Ahmed Zewail was vested and became a naturalized resident of the United States.

Contributions to Science

Ahmed Zewail’s main work has been a pioneer and a leader on femtochemistry – an area of physical chemistry that studies the chemical reactions happening in just a matter of femtoseconds. With the use of a rapid technique of ultrafast laser (which consists of ultrashort laser flashes), it allows the chemical reactions’ descriptions on a very short span of time – too short to analyze the transition states in several chemical reactions.

His work was based and initially turned out into something with the question, how rapid did the energy inside a large molecule such as the naphthalene, restructure among the entire atomic motions? They had to create an apparatus containing a vacuum chamber for those molecules exuding from the collimated beam source at a supersonic speed. The real challenge would boil down to building an ultrafast laser to be utilized alongside the molecular beam.

The team desired to witness the different processes from birth to death of every molecule. In this particular experiment, the anthracene molecule was isolated. It was through this experiment that Zewail and his team identified the specific movements of molecules and the importance of coherence in each phase of the molecular system. It was proven that the movement of each molecule is coherent, because if not, it would not have been observed in the first place.

The outcome of Zewail team’s experiment showed the importance of consistency and its existence in multifaceted molecular systems. The result of consistency and coherence was important through the movement of the molecules. Even before, molecular coherence had never been observed not because of the deficiency in coherence, but due to the deficiency in proper probes. In the experiments on anthracene, energy and time resolutions were initiated and correlated.

While Zewail was continuing his studies on the redistributions of vibrational energy, he began new studies and works on more brief time resolutions for molecules showcasing diverse rational motions and chemical processes.

It was in the year 1999 that Zewail received a Nobel Prize – on which he became third to have won as an Egyptian national but first in the field of Science. He received many different awards and recognitions from his works and experiments. His accolades were awarded by renowned bodies of institutions and he even ended up receiving the Grand Collar of the Nile, which is Egypt’s highest honor.

Zewail’s dedication to Science has led to political work. Like his father, he entered working for the government. He used Science as his driving force and platform to saving Egypt and saving the world. During the 4th of July, 2009 speech held at Cairo University, the president of the United States Barack Obama announced to the public the new program on Science Envoy as part of the fresh start between the people from the United States and the Muslims all over the world. And on January the following year, Bruce Alberts, Elias Zerhouni, and Ahmed Zewail became the first ever Science emissaries to Islam. They were tasked to visit countries with Muslims as the majority population beginning from the corners of North Africa to the boundaries of Southeast Asia.

Because of his accolades and great achievements in Science and even in political aspects, he was rumored to run for the presidential election of Egypt in 2011 but he justified himself by telling everybody that he had no political agenda or ambitions. All he wanted was to serve Egypt using Science as his armor and frankly voiced out that he strongly chose to die as a scientist and nothing else.

And then the highlight of his undying academic career came – Ahmed Zewail has been nominated and will partake in the PCAST or the Presidential Council of Advisors in Science and Technology presented and created by President Barack Obama. This is an advisory group of the country’s pioneer and leading engineers and scientists to make relatively significant pieces of advice for the President and Vice President and put together guidelines in the areas of Science, technology, and invention or innovation.