09/21/2006 07:00:00

Zewail Honored with Einstein Award

PASADENA, Calif.-- The World Cultural Council will present the 2006 Albert Einstein World Award of Science to Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics and professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology.

This recognition is for his "pioneering development of the new field of femtoscience and for his seminal contributions to the revolutionary discipline of physical biology, creating new ways for better understanding the functional behavior of biological systems by directly visualizing them in the four dimensions of space and time," according to the World Cultural Council's announcement.

The council's 23rd award ceremony, hosted by the National Polytechnic Institute, will take place October 28 at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

The council states that Zewail's contribution to science has changed the view of the dynamics of matter and created new disciplines in femtoscience, with applications in many areas, including the potential for molecular control with atomic precision.

At the end of the 1980s, Zewail and his team performed a series of experiments that led to the birth of femtoscience. In 1999 Zewail received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work, which makes it possible to observe the movement of individual atoms in a femtosecond, which is 0.000000000000001 of a second. It is to a second what a second is to 32 million years.

His achievements demonstrated how it is possible to follow atoms and molecules in "slow motion" during a chemical reaction in which chemical bonds are broken and new ones created. His technique was described as the world's fastest camera.

Femtoscience helps explain why some chemical reactions occur and why others do not, and why reaction rates and yields are dependent on energy. Scientists all over the world now study processes with femtosecond spectroscopy in gases, fluids, and solids, and on surfaces, in polymers, and in biological systems. Applications range from the study of how catalysts function and how molecular electronic devices should be designed, to the most delicate mechanisms of life processes and how the medicines of the future ought to be designed and produced.

Over the past seven years at Caltech, Zewail has founded the multidisciplinary Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, a new field of research that integrates the science of structure and dynamics with the aim of deciphering the fundamental physics of chemical and biological behavior from atoms to cells. Zewail is thus breaking ground at the interface of physics, chemistry, and biology. The genesis of these accomplishments was his breakthrough development of 4-D imaging, or visualization, of molecular and cellular systems directly in the four dimensions of space and time.

In addition to his accomplishments in science, Zewail is recognized for his efforts to help the less fortunate, as well as those in his native Middle East. He is known for his public lectures in which he strives to inspire young people in matters of science and technology, and he serves on many national and international boards and advisory committees.

Among more than 50 honors awarded to Zewail, he has received the Benjamin Franklin Medal, Leonardo Da Vinci Award of Excellence, Robert A. Welch Prize, Wolf Prize, and the King Faisal Prize. In the year he received the Nobel Prize, he was awarded the Grand Collar of the Nile, the highest order of Egypt. Postage stamps were issued to honor his contributions to science and humanity.

In 2001, he was featured in a BBC documentary called "The End of the Race Against Time." Zewail holds 30 honorary degrees in the sciences, medicine, arts, law, philosophy, and humane letters.

The Albert Einstein World Award of Science is given in recognition of an outstanding contribution to a discipline within pure or applied sciences that has brought true benefit to mankind. 

 

Written by Jill Perry