By Syed Aslam
Dr. Ahmed Zewail was born in Egypt in 1946. He received his bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™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 Egyptâ€™s highest state honor, the Grand Collar of the Nile.
Zewailâ€™s technique uses what may be described as the worldâ€™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 AUCâ€™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 â€œScience for the have nots,â€ in which he tries to explain why building a solid scientific base is so important for developing nations.