Ahmed Zewail


Ahmed Hassan Zewail (February 26, 1946 – August 2, 2016) was an Egyptian and American chemist,[4] known as the "father of femtochemistry".[5] He was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on femtochemistry and became the first Egyptian and Arab to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field,[4] and the second African to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry, a professor of physics, and the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology.[6]

Ahmed Zewail
أحمد زويل
Zewail in 2010
Ahmed Hassan Zewail

(1946-02-26)February 26, 1946
DiedAugust 2, 2016(2016-08-02) (aged 70)
Resting place6th of October, Giza, Egypt
CitizenshipEgypt Egypt
United States United States (naturalized)[3]
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.[7] He received 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 under the supervision of Robin M. Hochstrasser.[1][8]



After completing his PhD, Zewail did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, supervised by Charles B. Harris.[1] Following this, he was awarded a faculty appointment at the California Institute of Technology in 1976, and eventually became the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics there.[1] He became a naturalized citizen of the United States on March 5, 1982.[9] Zewail was the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology.[10]

Zewail with his colleagues at the Zewail City of Science, Technology and Innovation in 2012

Zewail was 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.[11]



Zewail's key work was a pioneer of femtochemistry[5][12][13]—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.[14]

Zewail in 1986

Zewail became known as the "father of femtochemistry".[15] He also made critical contributions in ultrafast electron diffraction, which uses short electron pulses rather than light pulses to study chemical reaction dynamics.[16]

Political work


In a speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, US President Barack Obama proclaimed a new Science Envoy program as part of a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world."[17] 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.[18]

Zewail in 2010

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."[19][20]

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.[21] 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.[22] He played a critical role during this time as described by Egyptian Media.

Awards and honours


Zewail's work brought him international attention, receiving awards and honors throughout most of his career for his work in chemistry and physics. In 1999, Zewail became the first Egyptian to receive a science Nobel Prize when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[7] Zewail gave his Nobel Lecture on "Femtochemistry: Atomic-Scale Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Using Ultrafast Lasers".[23][24]

In 1999, he received Egypt's highest state honour, the Grand Collar of the Nile.[1] Other notable awards include the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (1983), the King Faisal International Prize (1989),[1] the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1993), the Earle K. Plyler Prize (1993), the Herbert P. Broida Prize (1995), the Peter Debye Award (1996), the Tolman Award (1997),[1] the Robert A. Welch Award (1997),[1] the Linus Pauling Medal (1997), the Franklin Medal (1998) and the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (2000).[25] 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."[26] Zewail was awarded the Othmer Gold Medal (2009),[27][28] the Priestley Medal (2011) from the American Chemical Society[29] and the Davy Medal (2011) from the Royal Society.[30]

In 1982 he was named as a Fellow of the American Physical Society.[31] Zewail became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989,[32] the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993,[33] and the American Philosophical Society in 1998.[34] Zewail was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2001.[2] He was also elected as a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences in 2001.[35]

Zewail was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.[1] In 2005, the Ahmed Zewail Award for Ultrafast Science and Technology was established by the American Chemical Society and the Newport Corporation in his honor.[36] In 2010 the journal Chemical Physics Letters established the Ahmed Zewail Prize in Molecular Sciences.[37] In May 2010, Zewail gave the commencement address at Southwestern University.[38] The Zewail City of Science and Technology, established in 2000 and revived in 2011, is named in his honour.[7]

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, US (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); University of Liège, Belgium (2000);[39] Heriot-Watt University, Scotland (2002);[1] Lund University, Sweden (2003); Cambridge University (2006);[40] Complutense University of Madrid, Spain (2008);[41] University of Jordan, Jordan (2009);[42] University of Glasgow, Scotland (2011);[43] Yale University, US (2014).[44]

Egyptian national honours



Foreign honours






  United Arab Emirates

Personal life


Zewail and his first wife, Mervat, were married in 1967, just before leaving Egypt to attend the University of Philadelphia. He had two daughters with Mervat, Maha and Amani. They separated in 1979.[45][46]

Zewail married Dema Faham in 1989.[1] Zewail and Faham had two sons, Nabeel and Hani.[47][48]

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.[49][50][51] Zewail returned to Egypt, but only his body was received at Cairo Airport.[45] A military funeral was held for Zewail on August 7, 2016, at the El-Mosheer Tantawy mosque in Cairo, Egypt.[51] 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.[51] The funeral prayers were led by Ali Gomaa, former Grand Mufti of Egypt.[52][51]




  • Advances in Laser Spectroscopy I, ed. A. H. Zewail, SPIE, Bellingham, 1977
  • Advances in Laser Chemistry, ed. A. H. Zewail, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1978
  • Photochemistry and Photobiology, Vols. 1 and 2, ed. A. H. Zewail, Harwood Academic, London, 1983
  • Ultrafast Phenomena VII, eds. C. B. Harris, E. P. Ippen, G. A. Mourou and A. H. Zewail, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1990
  • The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics, ed. A. H. Zewail, Academic Press, Boston, 1992
  • Ultrafast Phenomena VIII, eds. J.-L. Martin, A. Migus, G. A. Mourou, and A. H. Zewail, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1993
  • Ultrafast Phenomena IX, eds. P. F. Barbara, W. H. Knox, G. A. Mourou, and A. H. Zewail, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1994
  • Femtochemistry: Ultrafast Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Vol. I, A. H. Zewail, World Scientific, 1994
  • Femtochemistry: Ultrafast Dynamics of the Chemical Bond Vol. II, A. H. Zewail, World Scientific, 1994
  • Physical Biology: From Atoms to Medicine, ed. A. H. Zewail, Imperial College Press, London, 2008
  • 4D Electron Microscopy, ed. A. H. Zewail, Imperial College Press, London, 2009
  • International Advisory Board for Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry (1999–2014)
  • 4D Visualization of Matter: Recent Collected Works of Ahmed H Zewail, Nobel Laureate, Imperial College Press, London, 2014


  • Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize, Ahmed H Zewail, World Scientific, 2002
  • Age of Science (2005, autobiography in Arabic)

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.
  • 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.

See also

  • Zewail City of Science and Technology (ZCST)
    • Ahmed founded ZCST and even donated his entire Nobel prize money in order to establish this university. Due to his need of wanting help Egypt to excel and advance academically the first batch of students were exempted from fees due to their scientific brilliance.[45]
  • List of Egyptian scientists


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Zewail, Ahmed. "Autobiography". Nobelprize.org. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660–2015". London: Royal Society.
  3. ^ "In Fond Remembrance of Egyptian-American Scientist Ahmed Zewail". U.S. Embassy in Egypt. 10 August 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2023.
  4. ^ a b Khan, Amina (2016-08-05). "Nobel Prize-winning Caltech scientist Ahmed Zewail has died at 70". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-06-01.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ "بالفيديو والصور.. جثمان أحمد زويل يوارى الثرى بمدفن أسرته بمدينة 6 أكتوبر". اليوم السابع (in Arabic). 2016-08-07. Retrieved 2024-06-07.
  7. ^ a b c Weil, Martin (3 August 2016). "Ahmad Zewail, Nobel laureate who sparked a 'revolution in chemistry,' dies at 70". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  8. ^ Zewail, Ahmed (1975). Optical and magnetic resonance spectra of triplet excitons and localized states in molecular crystals (PhD thesis). University of Pennsylvania. OCLC 54507972.
  9. ^ Zewail, Ahmed (2002). Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize. World Scientific. p. 214. ISBN 978-981-4338-09-7.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "President Obama Announces Members of Science and Technology Advisory Council". The White House. 27 April 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  12. ^ 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. S2CID 10050118.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Press Release: The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Nobelprize.org. 12 October 1999. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Srinivasan, Ramesh; Lobastov, Vladimir A.; Ruan, Chong-Yu; Zewail, Ahmed H. (July 10, 2003). "Ultrafast Electron Diffraction (UED): A New Development for the 4D Determination of Transient Molecular Structures". Helvetica Chimica Acta. 86 (6): 1761–1799. doi:10.1002/hlca.200390147.
  17. ^ Thomas, John Meurig (2019-12-30). "Ahmed Hassan Zewail. 26 February 1946—2 August 2016". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 68: 431–453. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2019.0040.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Obituary: Envoy to science". Al-Ahram Weekly. 4 August 2016. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  20. ^ Obituary: AHMED HASSAN ZEWAIL (1946–2016). Chemical Physics Letters. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  21. ^ "Egypt: Zewail returns, credible post-Mubarak figure". ANSAmed. 1 February 2011. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  22. ^ Fahim, Kareem; Kirkpatrick, David D. (February 12, 2011). "Military Offers Assurances to Egypt and Neighbors". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  23. ^ 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. PMID 10934390.
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  25. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  26. ^ "Prof. Ahmed Zewail". World Cultural Council. 28 October 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  27. ^ "Othmer Gold Medal". Science History Institute. 31 May 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  28. ^ "Chemical Heritage Foundation Presents Ahmed Zewail with Othmer Gold Medal". Chromatography Techniques. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  29. ^ "Zewail Wins 2011 Priestley Medal". Chemical & Engineering News. 21 June 2010. p. 5.
  30. ^ "Royal Society announces 2011 Copley Medal recipient". The Royal Society. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  31. ^ "Ahmed H. Zewail". American Institute of Physics: Physics History Network. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  32. ^ "Ahmed H. Zewail". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  33. ^ "Ahmed Hassan Zewail". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  34. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  35. ^ "Zewail Ahmed Hassan | The AAS". www.aasciences.africa. Retrieved 2022-12-15.
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  38. ^ "Nobel Laureate to Give 2010 Commencement Address". Southwestern University. 20 April 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  39. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Wiley Online Library. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  40. ^ "Honorary Degrees 2006". University of Cambridge. 3 July 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  41. ^ "Zewail, Ahmed H (Ciencias Químicas), 12 de mayo de 2008". Complutense University of Madrid. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ "Guest lectures – archive: Professor Ahmed Zewail – 3rd October 2011". University of Glasgow. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  44. ^ "Yale awards 12 honorary degrees at 2014 graduation". YaleNews. 19 May 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  45. ^ a b c El Nadi, Lotfia, ed. (2019). The brilliant Zewail. World Scientific Publishing Company Pte. Limited. ISBN 978-981-327-583-6. OCLC 1112734385.
  46. ^ Aspturian, Heidi. "Interview with Ahmed Zewail (1946 - 2016)" (PDF). CalTech Oral Histories. California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 23 August 2022.
  47. ^ "Ahmed Zewail, 1946–2016 | Caltech". California Institute of Technology. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  48. ^ Thomas, John Meurig (2020). "Ahmed Hassan Zewail. 26 February 1946—2 August 2016". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 68: 431–453. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2019.0040. S2CID 207893909.
  49. ^ "Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian chemist Zewail dies". Reuters News Agency. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  50. ^ "Egyptian Chemist Zewail, Noble Prize-Winner, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Associated Press. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  51. ^ a b c d "Sisi heads mourners at military funeral for Egyptian Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail". Ahram Online. 7 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  52. ^ "نبذة عن العالم المصري أحمد زويل". BBC News عربي (in Arabic). 2016-08-03. Retrieved 2024-02-05.
  •   Media related to Ahmed Zewail at Wikimedia Commons
  • Official website Captured from the Wayback Machine, June 28, 2018, accessed July 20, 2020
  • Ahmed Zewail's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  • Ahmed Zewail publications indexed by Google Scholar
  • Interview with Ahmed Zewail Caltech Oral Histories, California Institute of Technology
  • Ahmed Zewail on Nobelprize.org