Nobel prize-winning Egyptian-American chemist Ahmed Zewail, who served as a science and technology advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama and was the first U.S. science envoy to the Middle East, died Tuesday in the United States at the age of 70, Egypt’s presidency announced.
Zewail, a naturalized U.S. citizen, won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1999 for his groundbreaking work in the study of chemical reactions in extremely short timescales, making him the third Egyptian to win a Nobel prize and the country’s first scientist to do so.
Zewail, who was a member of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) faculty, was the sole recipient of the Nobel chemistry prize that year.
His work showed that it is possible with rapid laser technique to study in slow motion how atoms in a molecule move during a chemical reaction.
According to the Nobel Prize website, Zewail’s work led to the birth of the research area called femtochemistry, “which enables us to understand why certain chemical reactions take place but not others.”
He is the author of some 600 scientific articles and 16 books.
“Egypt has today lost one of its faithful sons and a brilliant scholar” who devoted his life to scientific research, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in the statement.
Born in the northern Egyptian town of Damanhur, 160 km northwest of Cairo, in 1946, Zewail studied chemistry at Alexandria University before moving to the U.S. in 1969 where he earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974.
In 2009, he was appointed to Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and later that year he was named the U.S.’ first science envoy to the Middle East.
Zewail also became outspoken on political issues roiling his native country.
In 2014, he published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times urging the U.S. government to remain constructively engaged with Egypt, rather than threatening to cut off U.S. aid after the military.
Up to his death Zewail worked at the California Institute of Technology.
Zewail was married with four children.
His body will be repatriated to Egypt.