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Learning from Ahmed Zewail | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I have recently completed reading the book ”Voyage through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize”, by Dr Ahmed Zewail. In the Arab world, notorious for its professors of terrorism such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Zewail is one of few Arab scientists of whom we can be proud. Furthermore, if I were to recommend an influential and uplifting book to the Arab world, it would be the autobiography of this Arab scientist.

To motivate students in their goals to be successful, the ministries of education of the Arab world should distribute the autobiography of Dr Zewail even if it is via the internet. The book does not only explain how to become an expert in chemistry but rather discusses a philosophical outlook on life undertaken by the professor. Moreover, it exhibits how he had come to realize that the greatest of laboratories is that of Arab society with its constant challenges and failures that have the potential of achieving success.

In his book, Zewail reflects upon the average Arab who aspires to political, economic or scientific success. He expresses his pride in the 1973 victory of the Arab-Israeli war, and his shame of the widespread problem of illiteracy. He recounts his experiences as a lecturer in Baghdad and addresses the cultural divergences in countries to which Arabs have migrated. Zewail further relates to the difficult journey that he undertook through university labs, which enabled him ultimately to achieve the greatest prize that many chemists dream of, that of the Nobel Prize.

Our schools are filled with books and material to memorize, with nothing to comprehend or to influence positively those who read them. Most school textbooks do not inspire students and do not contribute to their dreams for the future, a fact supported by the very few numbers of successful figures in the fields of sport and art.

Imagination and prosperity require tangible examples such as that of Dr Ahmed Zewail. He says, &#34I had undertaken my research in the years 1967 and 1968, a critical stage in the history of Egypt due to the war. In addition, people were demoralized and there was little hope to be found amongst the Egyptian people. There were no economic interests and markets suffered from shortages in basic goods such as car parts and factory machinery. We were all shocked by the news of the military relapse in 1967, which led Egypt into a phase of instability and disbelief, due to the media”s incorrect and exaggerated news of victory. We soon realized the painful truth and that we were merely told lies.&#34

Such is the same story for many Arab citizens, however instead of training to blow himself up amongst his fellow citizens; Zewail took to the chemistry labs to improve the situation through the gaining of knowledge. This way he was able to elevate his country”s reputation and fulfill his dreams. Zewail has achieved success and is now one of the most prominent scientists in the world.

If we really do have any desire to influence positively the minds of our youth and children, then Zewail”s autobiography proves to be a useful guide.