Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Obaid Siddiqui

By Syed Aslam

obaid_siddiqiObaid Siddiqui was born in Basti, Uttar Pradesh, India.  He completed his Master in Biology from Aligarh Muslim University in 1953.  After teaching at Aligarh for a while he came to England and finished his PhD. from the University of Glasgow in in the year 1961 where he worked in the Department of Genetics.

Obaid Siddiqui was offered a post-doctoral position at the MIT to work with , Dr. Alan Garen, a well known man in genetics. He came to MIT worked there for a while and then they moved to the University of Pennsylvania. Together they discovered the suppressors of “nonsense” mutations that led to the discovery of “nonsense” codons, the stop signals in the genetic code. In early seventies he moved to California to  work with Dr. Seymour Benzer of the California Institute of Technology. Their work led to  identification of several genes that control nerve conduction and synaptic transmission. Obaid and his associates’ pioneering work on neurogenetics of fruit fly, Drosophila, has opened up the prospects of an integrated genetic and neurobiological investigation of chemosensory perception.

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, invited him to start a molecular biology group at the institute . Obaid recruited top-class scientists and put the Institutes’s molecular biology group on world map of genetics. Later, with the support of government of India, he founded  National Center for Biological Sciences at Bangalore. The  aim  of this Center is basic research in the frontier areas of biology and currently it has many distinguished scientists working in various fields  with state-of-the-art facilities.

Prof. Siddiqi’s contributions have been widely recognized. He has been elected to several academies including all the National Academies in India, the Royal Society, London, the US National Academy of Sciences and the Third World Academy, Trieste. He is a former President of the Indian Academy of Sciences. Prof. Siddiqi has held visiting professorships at Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Caltech and Cambridge University. He was twice Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at Caltech and is a life member of the Clare Hall, Cambridge. The Aligarh Muslim University, the Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Hamdard, Kalyani University and IIT Kanpur have conferred upon him honorary degrees of D.Sc. He has received many prizes and awards, including the civil honors Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.


Mostafa El-Sayed

By Syed Aslam

el-sayedMostafa  El-Sayed was born in the year 1933  at Zifta, Egypt. He graduated  with bachelor of  science degree from  Ein Shams University, Cairo,  and completed PhD. in chemistry at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida in1958. He held Research Associate  positions at Harvard, Yale and the California Institute of Technology. He was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California at Los Angeles,  where he worked till 1994.  At present he is the Julius Brown Chair and Regents Professor and Director of the Laser Dynamics Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Dr. Mostafa El-Sayed  have contributed to many areas of physical and materials chemistry research, including the development of new techniques such as magnetophoto selection, picosecond Raman spectroscopy and phosphorescence microwave double resonance spectroscopy. Using spectroscopic techniques, they have been able to answer fundamental questions regarding ultrafast dynamical processes involving molecules, solids and photobiological systems. His work earned him a 2007 US. National Medal of Science award in Chemistry for his seminal and creative contributions to our understanding of the electronic and optical properties of nano-materials and to their applications in nano-catalysis and nano-medicine. His work has opened a brand new method to understand nanoparticles which can be used in nano-technology. 

Dr. Mostafa El-Sayed’s group were the first to synthesize metallic nanoparticles of different shape. It would be quite profitable if one can determine the type of reactions each shape would catalyze. Selectivity in catalysis saves a great deal of energy and money in reducing the need for exhaustive and expensive separation costs. Different nanocrystal shapes have different facets and so it can be used for different  catalytic functions. The El-Sayed’s group is also studying different techniques to stabilize the nanocrystal shapes, which can be used for a particular catalytic effect.  

Mostafa  El-Sayed is an internationally renowned nanoscience researcher whose work in the synthesis and study of the properties of nanomaterials of different shape may have applications in the treatment of cancer. He has a spectroscopy rule named after him, the El-Sayed rule. He has over 300 publications in the areas of spectroscopy and molecular dynamics. He uses short pulsed lasers to understand relaxation, transport and conversion of energy in molecules, in solids and in photosynthetic systems. He supervised the research of 50 PhD. students, 30 postdoctoral fellows and 15 visiting professors. Among his other many honors are the 2009 Ahmed Zewail Prize in Molecular Science.


Ahmed H Zewail

By Syed Aslam

File-ZowelDr. Ahmed Zewail was born  in Egypt in 1946. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Alexandria University. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974.  Joined the  California Institute of Technology in 1976 after two years as an IBM Fellow at UC Berkeley. In 1999 he was the Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions. Dr. Zewail received E.O. Lawrence Award, administrated by the Department of Energy. Other awards include the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, A. Welch Award in chemistry and the Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society. In 1999, he received Egypt’s highest state honor, the Grand Collar of the Nile.

Zewail’s technique uses what may be described as the world’s fastest camera. The method uses ultrafast laser flashes of such short duration that we are down to the time scale on which the reactions   happen -that is femtosecond or  one millionth of one billionth of a second. This area of physical chemistry has been named femtochemistry a brand new branch of Chemistry. This new techniques for observing chemical reaction has open the door for amazing useful discoveries.

Femtochemistry enables us to understand why certain chemical reactions take place but not others. We can also explain why the speed and yield of reactions depend on temperature. Scientists all over the  world  are studying processes with femtosecond spectroscopy in gases, in fluids and in solids. Applications range from how catalysts function and how molecular electronic components must be designed, to the most delicate mechanisms in life processes and how the medicines of the future should be produced.

Dr. Zewail is also paying  attention to his home land, Egypt. He established two prizes in his name, one at the high school in Kafr El-Sheikh, Egypt where he went to school and the other at the American University in Egypt (AUC).The  Ahmed Zewail prize, awarded for the first time in 2005 at AUC’s commencement. He thinks that the prise will provide an incentive for students to pursue excellence in science.  He is currently writing article for Nature magazine called “Science for the have nots,” in which he tries to explain why building a solid scientific base is so important for developing nations.