Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail passed away last night at the age of 70. The reason for his death is yet unknown, whether he died of the cancer that he has been suffering from for the past two years or of something else, his spokesperson Sherif Fouad said.
Zewail was born to a middle class family on 26 February 1946 in Damanhour, the capital city of the west Delta province of Beheira. His father was an employee with Egypt’s Irrigation Authority; his work took him to the north Delta town of Kafr al-Sheikh, and the whole family moved there when little Ahmed was four. Ahmed later returned to Damanhour for to enroll in secondary; he lived with his uncle’s family until he graduated. He studied Chemistry Alexandria University’s Faculty of Science from which he graduated in 1967 with highest honours.
Zewail worked as a junior teacher and research assistant till he earned his Masters of Science from the Alexandria University. He then worked with Shell oil company in Alexandria for a few years before moving to the US where he got his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. He did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1976 Dr Zewail became Assistant Professor in Chemical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, and went on to be the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics. He remained with the California Institute until 1990.
In 1999 Zewail won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, the study of chemical reactions in ultra-short time scales.
During the last decade, Zewail returned to Egypt. He was warmly welcomed, to the point that some among the public would have liked to see him nominate himself for the President of Egypt. However, the fact that his wife was non-Egyptian—Deema Zewail is Syrian—legally rendered this impossible. He divided his time between Egypt and California, and established a world-class research centre on the outskirts of Cairo, which he called Zewail City for Science and Technology.
News of Zewail’s death carried worldwide resonance, but especially aggrieved the people of his hometown in Damanhour, who are especially proud of him.
++Watani++ met some of Zewail’s neighbours who grew up with him. They all remember him as a student who used to study with passion. One neighbour remembers that the young Zewail would collect boxes of matches and use them with his friends to create new inventions. “He started here in Damanhour and then went international,” he said.
Zewail leaves behind his wife Deema Faham Zewail, and four children Maha, Amani, Nabil and Hani Zewail.
3 August 2016