Skip to main content

Ahmed Zewail: Arab American Heritage Month and Recognizing Immigrants and Refugees

By April 15, 2024No Comments

In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of notable immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape America’s vibrant tapestry. Today, we spotlight Nobel Laureate Egyptian-American chemist, Ahmed Zewail.

Ahmed Zewail, nicknamed the “Father of Femtochemistry,” was the first Egyptian scientist to receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His work proved it possible to observe how atoms move during chemical reactions by using flashes of laser light.

Zewail was born on February 26, 1946, in Damanhur, Egypt, the eldest of three siblings. He started his academic journey at the University of Alexandria, earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Chemistry.

After working as an instructor for two years, he moved to the United States with his wife to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning his degree, Zewail went on to complete his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1976, he was appointed as an assistant professor of chemical physics at The California Institute of Technology.

In 1982, Zewail became a naturalized US citizen. Throughout his career, Dr. Zewail received numerous awards and nominations, most notably a 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy. This pioneering research of fundamental chemical response, using ultra-short laser flashes, was not just a breakthrough, but a seismic shift in our understanding and prediction of important chemical activity. It revolutionized the field of chemistry, sparking new avenues of research and innovation in adjacent scientific fields.

Zewail’s work in science also led to political endeavors. In 2009, former President Barack Obama selected him for membership into the American PCAST (the Presidential Council of Advisors in Science and Technology), an advisory group made up of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers tasked with advising the President and Vice President on policy involving science, technology, and innovation.

Ahmed Zewail passed away on August 2, 2016. During his career, he published over 600 papers and 14 books. His notable works include The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics in 1992 and Physical BiologyFrom Atoms to Medicine in 2008.

Others we are celebrating in honor of Arab American Heritage Month: