Gifted Hands: Ahmed Zewail Nobel Prize Winner

A boy who was named Ahmed Zewail was born February 26, 1946 in Damanhur, the “City of Horus”, only 60 km from Alexandria. He lived a good childhood in the City of Disuq, which is the home of the famous mosque, Sidi Ibrahim. He was the only son in a family of three sisters and two loving parents. His father was liked and respected by the community because he was helpful, cheerful and very much enjoyed his life. He worked for the government and also had his own business. His mother was a good natured person and devoted all her life to her children, mainly to Ahmed.

His family’s dream was to see him receive a high degree and return home to become a university professor. On the door to his study room, a sign was placed reading, “Dr. Ahmed,” even though he was still in grade school and far from becoming a doctor. His father lived to see that day, but his uncle Rizk did not. Uncle Rizk was special to his boyhood years and he learned much from him. He appreciated him for critical analyses, an enjoyment of music and of letting him meet with the famous scholars that he had knew.

He was respected for his wisdom. Ahmed’s interests were in reading, music, some sports and playing backgammon. But as a young boy it was clear that his interests were in the physical sciences. Mathematics, mechanics, and chemistry were some of the fields that gave him lots of interest and. After finishing high school Ahmed applied to many universities. He was admitted to the faculty of science at Alexandria University and felt the greatness of the university. His grades through out the next few years flourished.

They flourished in courses like mathematics, physics, chemistry, and geology. His grades were either excellent or very good. In his second year he scored very highly in Chemistry and was chosen for a group of seven students called “special chemistry”, an elite science group. He graduated with the highest honors, with above 90% in all areas of chemistry. After graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science, he was appointed to a University position as a demonstrator to carry on research toward a Masters and then a Ph. D. degree.

Ahmed Zewail who is currently the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics, and the director of the NSF Laboratory for Molecular Sciences (LMS) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. He was awarded in the category of Chemistry for his new developments in the field of femotoscience. He made it possible to observe the movement of the individual atoms in a femotosecond. A femotosecond is a split second that is a millionth of a billionth of a second.

This brilliant development which changed our view of the dynamics of matter holds great promise in the areas of technology and life sciences. His current research interests include the biological sciences, the complexity of molecular function and the new development of ultrafast diffraction for the imaging of transient structure in space and time with atomic-scale resolution. Professor Ahmed Zewail who was educated in Egypt, received his B. S. and M. S. at Alexandria University, and received his Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

He has honorary degrees in sciences, arts, philosophy, law and medicine from many universities and institutions from around the world. Including the U. S. A. , England, Switzerland, Egypt, Belgium, Australia, Canada, India, Italy, Scotland, Korea, Sweden and France. He is an elected member of national and international academies and societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Achievement, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, the Royal Society of London, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Professor Ahmed Zewail holds more than 100 prizes and awards such as: the Robert A. Welch Prize, Wolf Prize, King Faisal Prize, Benjamin Franklin Medal, Peter Debye Award, and the E. O. Lawrence Award. From Egypt he received the Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile, the highest state honor, and postage stamps were issued to honor his contributions to science and humanity.


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