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Many of us woke up today to the saddening news of Professor Ahmed Zewail’s death. A figure that inspired us all in so many ways, and inspired a whole generation of science lovers in the Arab region upon being awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry back in 1999. He was a respected professor of chemistry and physics, was known for spreading his knowledge in every way he could, and he made it his mission to inspire. But what do we really know about him? Do we know his life happenings that made him who he is? Do we know his actual achievements aside of the Nobel award? And do we even know what exactly was the research that won him the Nobel?
Here are 10 facts about him, to help us all know more about our late cherished professor Ahmed Zewail:
- He was born and raised in Egypt, and he got his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Chemistry from Alexandria University in 1967 and 1969.[i]
- He moved to the US to complete his Ph.D. in Pennsylvania by 1974, and then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, for his postdoctoral studies. After which he was appointed as a faculty member in California Institute of Technology (CalTech). [i]
- He became an American citizen in 1982.[ii]
- The Nobel Prize was neither his first nor his only award. He got about 100 international awards[iii], and his first was King Faisal International Prize in Physics in the year 1989, a whole 10 years before the Nobel Prize on 1999. Some of his other awards included: Leonardo Da Vinci Award (1995), Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2006), Davy Medal (2011), and many more prestigious awards across his career.[iv]
- His Nobel prize was in the field of femtochemistry, in which his study explained in femtoseconds ( an extremely small measure of a second) how atoms in a molecule interact and move during a chemical reaction using rapid laser technique. The atoms movement were always assumed in a certain way but due to its immense speed, it wasn’t confirmed to be true before Ahmed Zewail’s study.[v] The field of femtochemistry (which is the field of Ahmed Zewail’s Nobel awarded research) is a new field in physical chemistry that was created upon Ahmed Zewail’s scientific breakthrough. [i][vi]
- In his lifetime, he wrote about 600 articles, mainly scientific, and about 14 books. [ii]
- In the year 2009, he was appointed by the US President Barak Obama to be a member of the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a council with a mission to advise on all matters relevant to sciences from laws, policies, projects, and more.[vii]
- In the year 2009, he was named by the US President Barak Obama to be the first United States Science Envoy to the Middle East. The envoy’s mission was to connect the US with the Middle East through science. Being part of the envoy meant he traveled a lot to different Middle Eastern countries to advocate for sciences, which started the old rumors that he is entering politics, the rumor that he completely rejected and confirmed his loyalty to sciences.[viii]
- He founded Zewail City of Science and Technology in Egypt, which included about 7 institutes of specialized sciences. Though the project was proposed in 1999, it only saw the light after a decree was issued by the Egyptian cabinet on May 2011, post the 25th January revolution in 2011, in the hope that it would revive science discoveries in the nation. It’s worth noting that Zewail City of Science and Technology is located in Sheikh Zayed district, which is really a double tribute for both Zewail and our late father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
- The Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon invited him in year 2013 to join the U.N. Scientific Advisory Board. And in 2014, Egypt’s president El-Sisi issued a decree to appoint Ahmed Zewail as a member of the Council of Advisers for the state of Egypt.[ix]
Originally published at Sail Magazine.