King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) recognizes excellence in 5 categories: Service to Islam, Islamic Studies, Arabic Language & Literature, Medicine, and Science, since 1979

Professor Ahmed H. Zewail

Winner of the  
KFIP Prize for  
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Topic: Physics


Nationality: United States of America

1989-Ahmed-ZewailAhmed Hassan Zewail was born in the town of Damanhour in Egypt in 1946 and grew up in Disoug in the Nile Delta. He received his bachelor and M.Sc. degrees from the University of Alexandria, then traveled to the USA where he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pensylvania, followed by post-doctoral work at the University of California in Berkley. He was naturalized in 1976. Zewail pursued a remarkable successful career from the time of his graduation, until becoming the Linus Pauling Chair of Chemistry and Professor of Physics. He also served for ten years as the Director of the National Science Foundation Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena and is currently the Director of Moore Foundation’s Center for Physical Biology. In 2009, he was also appointed by US President Barack Obama to the President’s Avdisory Council on Science and Technology and the first United States Science Envoy to the Middle East.

Professor Zewail is the world’s pioneer in introducing and developing the technique known as ultra-fast laser molecular beam spectroscopy. This has opened the field of real-time (femtosecond) molecular dynamics with sub-Angstrom resolution. His brilliant work unraveled some of the mysteries of molecules and made it possible to observe and study their motion in a femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second or 10 -15 of a second), thereby enabling scientists for the first time to record the instant of a molecule’s creation. In addition to inventing the new field femtoscience, Professor Zewail also founded the Center of Physical Biology at Caltech with the aim of deciphering the fundamental physics of chemical and biological behavior. Over the past few years, Professor Zewail and his group made seminal contributions to this new field, creating novel ways for better understanding the functional behavior of biological systems by directly visualiaing them in the four dimensions of space.

Professor Zewail’s astounding scholarship earned him numerous honors. In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Science and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry a decade later, he was awarded around 100 international prizes and medals, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from more than 30 universities, including the University of Cambridge, fellowships of all major scientific academies and societies worldwide, visiting professorships, editorships and hundreds of invited lectureships. He published hundreds of scientific papers, and several books on the applications of laser, and supervised a large number of graduate and post-doctoral students and presented more than 300 named Plenary and keynote lectures. Following his Nobel award, the Egyptian Government awarded him its highest State honor, the Grand Collar of the Nile (First Class), gave his name to the street where he lived as a youth and issued commomerative stamps bearing his likeness. He was appointed Honorary Professor at the United Nations University traveling widely to lecture on science and technology in the developing world. Three Zewail Prizes were established in his honor (by Elsevier Publishers, American Chemical Society and Wayne State University) for outstanding achievements in Science and Technology. The American University in Cairo established the Ahmed Zewail Foundation for Knowledge and Development, which disseminates knowledge and provides prizes for young people.who demonstrate “extraordinary commitment to the pursuit of scientific inquiry and the affirmation of humanistic values”. In 2003, Professor Zewail published: “Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize,” an endearing exposé of his life and work until his receipt of the Nobel Prize; the book was translated to 17 languages so far.

Dr. Zewail’s reputation rests on his excellent and work on time resolved spectroscopy of molecular processes on a picosecond and femtosecond time scale. One of the interesting questions is: How long does it take for the energy, selectively specific vibrational modes of a molecule, to become redistributed  among the different degrees of This work contributes to a better understanding of fundamental processes, and has also importance for a possible realization of laser-driven chemical reactions.

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