On this day: Ahmed Zewail was born

Ahmed Hassan Zewail was born on this day 26 February 1946 in Damanhur. At the age of 4, he moved with his parents to Desouk, Kafr El Sheikh where he received his primary education. After graduating from high school, he joined the Faculty of Sciences in Alexandria University. He received his Bachelor of Science with highest honor in Chemistry in 1967. He worked as a demonstrator at the university then obtained a master’s degree in a research in the science of light.

He moved from Egypt to the United States to complete his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He then, completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1982, he earned his American citizenship. He led several academic, scientific positions within the Caltech University, until he became a major professor of Chemistry, the highest scientific position in an American university, succeeding Linus Paulng who won the Nobel Prize twice, first in chemistry and in the second world peace.

He pioneered a laser technique that allows scientists to see, in “slow motion”, how atoms and molecules behave in chemical reactions. In a series of groundbreaking experiments in the 1980s, he developed what many have described as the world’s fastest camera – a device that provides a laser flash measured in femtoseconds. This is a unit of measurement equal to 0.000000000000001 seconds, which is to a second what a second is to 32 million years. But this is the sort of speed required if chemists want to “freeze” the moment when atoms and molecules come together to form new compounds. This area of physical chemistry is now called femtochemistry.

He was awarded the Noble prize in Chemistry in 1999.