Ahmed Zewail

In Memoriam: Ahmed Zewail, 1946-2016

Ahmed Zewail, a pioneer in femtochemistry and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, passed away on 2 August 2016 at the age of 70. Zewail was known for his work with femtosecond lasers, which his team utilized to monitor chemical reactions at a scale of a femtosecond, or a millionth of a billionth of a second.  Most recently, his group worked on four-dimensional microscropy, which allows scientists to visualize molecular changes in space and time.

Zewail was born in Damanhur, Egypt, outside of Cairo and studied at Alexandria University before moving to the United States and pursuing a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He did his postdoctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley and joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology in 1976.  At the time of his death, Zewail was the Linus Pauling professor of chemistry and director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at Caltech.

During his career, Zewail authored more than 600 articles and 16 books and received numerous awards including the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, and Egypt’s Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile.  Zewail became a naturalized United States citizen in 1982 and was appointed to the Council of Advisors on Science Technology by President Obama.  He also served on the United Nations Scientific Advisory Board beginning in 2013 and was the first US science envoy to the Middle East.  In addition to his service to the scientific community, Zewail was also devoted to his native country of Egypt and led the Zewail City of Science and Technology at the request of the United Nations. 

Zewail is survived by his wife of 27 years, Dema Faham, and their four children.  The scientific community mourns the loss of Ahmed Zewail.