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Honorary degree citation - Ahmed Zewail*

By: Louise Quesnel, June 2002

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you the distinguished scientist, teacher and Nobel laureate, Dr. Ahmed Zewail. Dr. Zewail is the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics and the Director of the Laboratory for Molecular Sciences at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Born in Egypt, he enjoyed a happy childhood growing up on the banks of the Nile. Dr. Zewail earned a Bachelor of Science and Master's degree from Alexandria University and also held a research and teaching post there. He pursued his doctoral research in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went to the University of California at Berkeley as an IBM fellow. Since 1976, Dr. Zewail has been at Caltech, and over the years close to 150 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting associates have been part of the Zewail family in what is know as Femtoland.

Dr. Zewail is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in the development of the new field, femtoscience, making it possible to observe the movement of individual atoms in a femtosecond, a split second that is a millionth of a billionth of a second. He has literally changed our view of matter, ushering in a new era for discoveries and creating a new discipline with applications in the sciences. This development holds great promise in the areas of high technology and biomedicine. For this groundbreaking work, Dr. Zewail was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Dr. Zewail's contributions have brought about a revolution in chemistry and adjacent sciences, said the Nobel citation. The chairman of the Nobel Committee described his scientific contributions in the following words: "Zewail's use of the fast laser technique can be likened to Galileo's use of his telescope, which he directed towards everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his femto second laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope towards the frontiers of science. We can now study the actual movements of atoms in molecules. We can speak of them in time and space in the same way that we imagine them. They are no longer invisible."

The historian of science, Robert Paradowski likened Ahmed Zewail to Christopher Columbus in the following quote "by inventing these methods Zewail was the Christopher Columbus of the femtoworld, becoming the first to witness chemical events that occurred in quadrillionths of a second.”

Dr. Zewail's contributions to humanity are equally impressive. He is renown for his public lectures and writings in many fields and world affairs, for his tireless efforts to help the have-nots, and for his determination to help his native country and the region. In his recent biography Voyage through Time-Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize, he brilliantly gives an exposé of his life and work until his receipt of the Nobel Prize and he suggests a concrete course of action for the world of the have-nots and for a new vision of world order. His legacy will continue to inspire generations not only because of his scientific discoveries but also for his efforts to help humanity.

Dr. Zewail's honors and awards are from around the globe. In the same year he received the Nobel Prize, he was awarded the Grand Collar of the Nile, the highest Order of Egypt, and postage stamps were issued to honor his contributions to science and humanity. His other honors include the Robert A. Welch Prize, the Wolf Prize, the King Faisal Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Peter Debye Award, and the E.O. Lawrence Award, among the more than 50 other prizes he has received. He holds Honorary Degrees from the USA, UK, Switzerland, Egypt, Belgium, Australia, Canada, India and Italy.

Dr. Zewail is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Achievement, and is a fellow of the American Physical Society. He is a member of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences where he received its insignia from Pope John Paul II.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you, Dr. Ahmed Zewail, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.


* Deceased

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