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10/20/2003 07:00:00

Another Swedish Accolade for Ahmed Zewail

PASADENA, CA -- Ahmed Zewail, already honored with the Nobel Prize in chemistry, has received another accolade. The Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics and professor of physics at Caltech has been named a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Royal Academy is the organization that awards the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, and economics. Being elected a member of the academy constitutes exclusive recognition of successful research achievements. The academy members are divided into 10 classes; Zewail was elected as a foreign member of Class IV, chemistry. Besides noting his illustrious research career, the academy cited his active contribution to "promoting research and education in the Third World."

"Normally after winning the Nobel Prize, you don't get elected to the academy," says Zewail, "so it was very kind of them to elect me, and I hope we can bring together this and other distinguished academies to promote global science and education."

Zewail, a native of Egypt, is a member of numerous academies and societies, and holds 20 honorary degrees from around the world, including one this year from Lund University in Sweden. Currently his efforts are focused on new research areas at Caltech, and on promoting awareness about the role of science in world peace.

In 2001 he established prizes for excellence in the sciences and humanities for undergraduates at the American University in Cairo (AUC). The award, named after Zewail by AUC in his honor, is intended to recognize graduating AUC students who demonstrate "extraordinary commitment to the pursuit of scientific inquiry and the affirmation of humanistic values."

Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1999 for breakthrough research. Using ultrafast lasers in a novel way, Zewail's research team was able to observe the motion of atoms and record the transition state of a chemical reaction, revealing, as he put it at the time, "the chemical act--the breaking and making of chemical bonds." Prior to this breakthrough, transition states had never before been observed in real time because they happen on the timescale of a millionth of a billionth of a second, or one femtosecond. At the interface of physics and chemistry, Zewail founded the new field of femtochemistry and femtobiology.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is an independent organization whose overall objective is to foster the sciences, particularly mathematics and the natural sciences. Each year, it awards a number of prizes to deserving scientists, the most famous of which, the Nobel, has been awarded since 1901.