Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
Ahmed H. Zewail
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1999
Born: 26 February 1946, Damanhur, Egypt
Died: 2 August 2016
Affiliation at the time of the award: California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA, USA
Prize motivation: "for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy."
Prize share: 1/1
Ahmed Zewail was born in Damanhur, Egypt, and grew up in Alexandria. His father worked as a bicycle and motorbike fitter before becoming a government official. After studying at the university in Alexandria, Zewail moved to the US to undertake his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After some time spent working at the University of California, Berkeley, Zewail transferred to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1976, where he continues to work. Ahmed Zewail is married with four children.
Chemical reactions in which molecules held together by atoms meet and reorganize into new compounds are one of nature's most fundamental processes. This transition from one constellation to another happens very quickly. The process is possible because the atoms inside a molecule vibrate. The time between these vibrations is very short - 10-100 femtoseconds. In the late 1980s Ahmed Zewail developed methods for studying chemical reactions in detail. By using laser technology to produce flashes of light just a few femtoseconds long, reactions can be mapped.