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  • Credit: Caltech
11/29/2011 08:00:00

Caltech Nobel Laureate Named One of the Top Leaders in America

PASADENA, Calif.— Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been named one of the Top American Leaders of 2011 by The Washington Post and Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership. Six other people, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, were chosen to receive the distinction, which recognizes "outstanding leadership" in any area of interest.

"Ahmed's exceptional achievements as pioneering scientist, an extraordinary professor, and a regarded statesman of the world make him an ideal candidate to receive this honor," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "We at Caltech are, as always, extremely proud of him."

The selection committee included many prominent leadership experts and considered more than a hundred finalists from a variety of sectors and walks of life.

"I am pleased with this special recognition to be named among the top leaders in America," says Zewail, "It comes at a special time, when Egypt, my native country, is going through democratic changes, and to those who have died in the struggle against oppression, I dedicate this award."

In 1999, Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research that established the field of femtochemistry by enabling chemical reactions to be studied in real time, at the scale of quadrillionths of a second. More recently, he and his group have developed four-dimensional electron microscopy for direct imaging of matter in the three dimensions of space and in time, with applications spanning the physical and biological sciences.

Zewail completed his early education in Egypt, receiving his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in chemistry from Alexandria University. He obtained a PhD in chemical physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. He joined Caltech's faculty in 1976 as an assistant professor, becoming associate professor in 1978, professor in 1982, and Pauling Professor in 1990. He is currently the director of the Moore Foundation's Center for Physical Biology at Caltech.

In 2009, Zewail was appointed to President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. That same year, he was named the first U.S. Science Envoy to the Middle East as part of a program sponsored by the White House and the State Department to foster science and technology collaborations between the United States and nations throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Since the January 25 revolution in Egypt, he has played a critical role in the development of his native country and its transition to a democratic state.

Zewail has a long-standing interest in global affairs, particularly as they relate to science, education, and world peace. His commentaries on these global issues have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He has written more than 500 articles and a dozen books and has given public addresses all over the world.

Among other honors, Zewail has received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Robert A. Welch Award, the Leonardo da Vinci Award, the Wolf Prize, the Priestley Medal, and the King Faisal International Prize. He is a recipient of the Grand Collar of the Order of the Nile, Egypt's highest state honor, and has been featured on postage stamps issued to honor his contributions to science and humanity. Zewail holds honorary degrees from 40 universities around the world and is an elected member of many professional academies and societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, The Royal Society of London, and the Swedish, Russian, Chinese, and French Academies.  

Zewail will receive the Top American Leaders award at a public forum at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on December 5.

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier