Ahmed Zewail

Ahmed Hassan Zewail (Arabic: أحمد حسن زويل, Egyptian Arabic: [ˈæħmæd ˈħæsæn zeˈweːl]; February 26, 1946 – August 2, 2016) was an Egyptian-American scientist, known as the "father of femtochemistry".[3] He was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on femtochemistry and became the first Egyptian to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. He was the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Physics, and the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology.

Ahmed Zewail
Ahmed Zewail in 2010
Ahmed Hassan Zewail

(1946-02-26)February 26, 1946
Damanhour, Egypt
DiedAugust 2, 2016(2016-08-02) (aged 70)
Alma mater
Known forFemtochemistry
Scientific career
ThesisOptical and magnetic resonance spectra of triplet excitons and localized states in molecular crystals (1975)
Doctoral advisorRobin M. Hochstrasser

Early life and education

Ahmed Hassan Zewail was born on February 26, 1946, in Damanhur, Egypt, and was raised in Desouk.[4] He received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Chemistry from Alexandria University before moving to the United States to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania supervised by Robin M. Hochstrasser.[1][5]


After completing his PhD, Zewail did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, supervised by Charles Bonner Harris.[1] Following this, he was awarded a faculty appointment at the California Institute of Technology in 1976, and he was made the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics.[1] He became a naturalized citizen of the United States on 5 March 1982.[6] Zewail was the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology.[7]

Zewail had been nominated and participated 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.[8]


Zewail's key work was as a pioneer of femtochemistry[3] [9] [10]—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.[11] Zewail became known as the "father of femtochemistry".[12]

Political work

In a speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, 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."[13] 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.[14]

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."[15][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] He played a critical role during this time as described by Egyptian Media.

Awards and honors

In 1999, Zewail became the first Egyptian and the first Arab to receive a science Nobel Prize when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[4] Zewail gave his Nobel Lecture on "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers".[19][20] In 1999, he received Egypt's highest state honor, the Grand Collar of the Nile.[1] In October 2006, Zewail received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science for "his pioneering development of the new field of 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."[21]

Other international awards include the King Faisal International Prize (1989),[1] Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1993) awarded to him by the Wolf Foundation,[1] the Tolman Award (1997),[1] the Robert A. Welch Award (1997),[1] the Othmer Gold Medal (2009),[22][23] the Priestley Medal (2011) from the American Chemical Society[24] and the Davy Medal (2011) from the Royal Society.[25]

Zewail was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2001.[2] He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2002.[1] He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lund University in Sweden in May 2003 and was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.[1] Cambridge University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science in 2006.[26] In May 2008, Zewail received an honorary doctorate from Complutense University of Madrid.[27] In February 2009, Zewail was awarded an honorary doctorate in arts and sciences by the University of Jordan.[28] In May 2010, he gave the commencement address at Southwestern University.[29] On 3 October 2011 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Glasgow.[30] On 19 May 2014, he was awarded an honorary degree from Yale University.[31] The Zewail city of science and technology, established in 2000 and revived in 2011, is named in his honour.[4]

Honorary Degrees

Zewail was bestowed honorary degrees by the following institutions: University of Oxford, UK (1991); The American University in Cairo, Egypt (1993); Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium (1997); University of Pennsylvania, USA (1997); University of Lausanne, Switzerland (1997); Swinburne University of Technology, Australia (1999); Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, Egypt (1999); D.Sc. Alexandria University, Egypt (1999); D.Sc. University of New Brunswick, Canada (2000); Sapienza University of Rome, Italy (2000); and University of Liège, Belgium (2000).[32]

Personal life

Zewail married Dema Faham in 1989.[1] He had four children: Maha, Amani, Nabeel, and Hani.[33]


Egyptian national honours


Foreign honors




Death and funeral

Zewail died aged 70 on the morning of August 2, 2016. He was recovering from cancer, however, the exact cause of his death is unknown.[34][35][36] A military funeral was held for Zewail on August 7, 2016, at the El-Mosheer Tantawy mosque in Cairo, Egypt.[36] Those attending included President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi, former President Adly Mansour, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub.[36] The funeral prayers were led by Ali Gomaa, former Grand Mufti of Egypt.[36]




Remembering Ahmed H. Zewail

  • Chergui, Majed; Marcus, Rudolph A.; Thomas, John Meurig; Zhong, Dongping (2017). Majed Chergui, Rudolph A Marcus, John Meurig Thomas, Dongping Zhong (eds.). Personal and Scientific Reminiscences: Tributes to Ahmed Zewail. World Scientific. doi:10.1142/q0128. ISBN 978-1-78634-435-9.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • Douhal, Abderrazzak; Baskin, John Spencer; Zhong, Dongping (2017). Abderrazzak Douhal, John Spencer Baskin, Dongping Zhong (eds.). Reminiscences of Ahmed H. Zewail: Photons, Electrons and What Else? A Portrait from Close Range. Remembrances of his Group Members and Family. World Scientific. doi:10.1142/10750. ISBN 978-981-323-153-5.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)

See also


  1. Zewail, Ahmed. "Autobiography". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  2. "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660–2015". London: Royal Society.
  3. Douhal, Abderrazzak; Lahmani, Françoise; Zewail, Ahmed H. (1996). "Proton-transfer reaction dynamics". Chemical Physics. 207 (2–3): 477–498. Bibcode:1996CP....207..477D. doi:10.1016/0301-0104(96)00067-5. ISSN 0301-0104.
  4. Weil, Martin (3 August 2016). "Ahmed Zewail, Nobel laureate who sparked a 'revolution in chemistry,' dies at 70". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  5. Zewail, Ahmed (1975). Optical and magnetic resonance spectra of triplet excitons and localized states in molecular crystals (PhD thesis). University of Pennsylvania. OCLC 54507972.
  6. Zewail, Ahmed (2002). Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize. World Scientific. p. 214. ISBN 9789814338097.
  7. Zewail, Ahmed. "A Message from the Director". Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, California Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 10 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  8. "President Obama Announces Members of Science and Technology Advisory Council". The White House. 27 April 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  9. 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. PMID 15080722.
  10. Zewail, Ahmed H. (2000). "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond†". The Journal of Physical Chemistry A. 104 (24): 5660–5694. Bibcode:2000JPCA..104.5660Z. doi:10.1021/jp001460h. ISSN 1089-5639.
  11. "Press Release: The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Nobelprize.org. 12 October 1999. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  12. Browne, Malcolm W. (13 October 1999). "Nobels for Fast Camera and Tying 2 Forces of Nature". The New York Times. Associated Press/Reuters/Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  13. Thomas, John Meurig (2019-12-30). "Ahmed Hassan Zewail. 26 February 1946—2 August 2016". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 0: 20190040. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2019.0040.
  14. Pellerin, Cheryl (16 February 2010). "First U.S. Science Envoys Begin Work in Muslim-Majority Countries". America.gov. Archived from the original on 26 February 2010.
  15. "Obituary: Envoy to science". Al-Ahram Weekly. 4 August 2016. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  16. Obituary: AHMED HASSAN ZEWAIL (1946–2016). Chemical Physics Letters. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  17. "Egypt: Zewail returns, credible post-Mubarak figure". ANSAmed. 1 February 2011. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  18. Fahim, Kareem; Kirkpatrick, David D. (February 12, 2011). "Military Offers Assurances to Egypt and Neighbors". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  19. Zewail, Ahmed H. (2000). "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers (Nobel Lecture)". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 39 (15): 2586–2631. doi:10.1002/1521-3773(20000804)39:15<2586::AID-ANIE2586>3.0.CO;2-O.
  20. "Ahmed Zewail – Nobel Lecture: Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  21. "Prof. Ahmed Zewail". World Cultural Council. 28 October 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  22. "Othmer Gold Medal". Science History Institute. 31 May 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  23. "Chemical Heritage Foundation Presents Ahmed Zewail with Othmer Gold Medal". Chromatography Techniques. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  24. "Zewail Wins 2011 Priestley Medal". Chemical & Engineering News. 21 June 2010. p. 5.
  25. "Royal Society announces 2011 Copley Medal recipient". The Royal Society. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  26. "Honorary Degrees 2006". University of Cambridge. 3 July 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  27. "Zewail, Ahmed H (Ciencias Químicas), 12 de mayo de 2008". Complutense University of Madrid. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  28. Kheetan, Thameen (26 February 2009). "Egyptian Nobel laureate calls for 'scientific renaissance' in Arab world". Jordan Times. Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  29. "Nobel Laureate to Give 2010 Commencement Address". Southwestern University. 20 April 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  30. "Guest lectures – archive: Professor Ahmed Zewail – 3rd October 2011". University of Glasgow. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  31. "Yale awards 12 honorary degrees at 2014 graduation". YaleNews. 19 May 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  32. "Honorary Degrees". Wiley Online Library. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  33. "Ahmed Zewail, 1946–2016 | Caltech". California Institute of Technology. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  34. "Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian chemist Zewail dies". Reuters News Agency. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  35. "Egyptian Chemist Zewail, Noble Prize-Winner, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Associated Press. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  36. "Sisi heads mourners at military funeral for Egyptian Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail". Ahram Online. 7 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
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