Ahmed Zewail, scientist and peace activist, dies

Ahmed Zewail, scientist and peace activist, dies

California Institute of Technology professor and Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail died on Tuesday of unknown causes. Known for his work in both the scientific and the political realms, Zewail was 70.

“Ahmed Zewail was a great man for chemistry, for science, and for society,” CalTech Professor Jacqueline K. Barton said. “All of us at Caltech grieve his loss.”

Zewail was born in Egypt. He joined the CalTech in 1976, and became a US citizen in 1982. Known as the “father of femtochemistry”, he specialized in extremely fast chemical reactions.

Zewail was director of CalTech’s Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology. He claimed the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his use of lasers in analysing chemical reactions. He was the first Egyptian to win the Nobel in a scientific field.

“I never ever believed that one day I would get a call from Sweden as a boy,” he said after receiving the prize. “I had passion about science. My mother said I was going to burn the house.”

His political career began in 2009, when he became a member of President Barack Obama’s Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The following year, he became one of three American scientific envoys to the Middle East and North Africa.

His involvement in Egyptian politics deepened following 2011’s Arab Spring protests. Although he initially set out to assist the transition from dictatorship to democracy, personal illness and legal issues got in the way, according to PBS Chief Foreign Correspondent Margaret Warner.

“We were once the greatest civilization on the planet,” Zewail told Warner in 2013. “And our young people could make it be once again. But all we’re known for now is misery and unrest.”

However, the Eygptian government later opened Zewail City of Science and Technology, a national research campus, in his honor. Zewail is survived by his wife, Dema Faham, and four children.

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