Voyage through Time

Voyage through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize

Ahmed Zewail
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7hd6
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  • Book Info
    Voyage through Time
    Book Description:

    From a beginning in an Egyptian Delta town and the port of Alexandria to the scenic vistas of sunny southern California, Ahmed Zewail takes us on a voyage through time—his own life and the split-second world of the femtosecond. In this engaging exposé of his life and work until his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1999, Zewail explores in non-technical language the landscape of molecules glimpsed on the scale of one quadrillionth of a second: the femtosecond, 0. 000 000 000 000 001 second. Zewail enriches the journey into the strange territory of femtochemistry with insightful analogies and illustrations to aid both the general reader and the scientifically inclined. He likewise draws lessons from his life story so far, and he meditates on the impact the revolution in science has had on our modern world—in both developed and developing countries. He suggests a concrete course of action for the world of the have-nots, and ends the book with hope for Egypt in developing the nation’s greatest natural resource—its youth—to build a more promising future, and for America to develop a new vision domestically and internationally.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-246-1
    Subjects: History, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    A telephone call at dawn on October 12, 1999, shook my inner being just as an earthquake does in California. In Pasadena, California, I received the news at 5:30 A.M. from the secretary-general of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, congratulating me on the award of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He read the citation of the academy and indicated that I was receiving the prize unshared. After three other members of the academy praised the contribution for which the prize was awarded, the secretary-general came back on the line and said: “In twenty minutes we will be announcing it...

  5. Chapter 1 First Steps On the Banks of the Nile
    (pp. 1-14)

    Damanhur, where I was born in 1946, is a sprawling Delta town, which now has some 200,000 inhabitants. Only 60 km southeast of Alexandria, it lies on the main agricultural road between Cairo and Alexandria and is the chief town of the Governorate of Behira. The name has changed little from its ancient pharaonic days, when it was calledDmi-n-Hr, “The Town of Horus,” the sun god. I assume the city got its name not just because there was a temple to Horus here, but also because the sun so generously blessed the area with a good climate and bountiful...

  6. Chapter 2 The Gate to Science The Alexandria Years
    (pp. 15-34)

    Some people think that Alexandria is nothing but a beach, and in fact, the city hugs the shoreline, making it one of the world’s longest and narrowest cities. Egyptians flock to Alexandria’s beaches in the summertime because, being on the sea, it’s cool. There is a continuous breeze that freshens the air and soothes people’s spirits. The natural harbor and the healthfulbahari(north) breezes are said to have been prime considerations that Alexander the Great took into account in 331 BC when he founded the city bearing his name. We now know that he was taking the lead from...

  7. Chapter 3 The American Encounter Independence in Philadelphia
    (pp. 35-52)

    On August 23, 1969, we were at Cairo Airport at 7:30 A.M., ready for our departure for the United States. Our families came to the airport to say goodbye. For me, those were unforgettable moments, full of mixed emotions—the excitement of going to America, the sadness of leaving the motherland for the first time, and my departure from my family, with my mother’s tears still fresh in my mind as I walked through the airport. I was the only son, and in the Egyptian family tradition I was the one who could take on the responsibilities as the head...

  8. Chapter 4 California Gold From Berkeley to Pasadena
    (pp. 53-90)

    The 1848 Gold Rush made California a prime destination for thousands who sought its fabled wonders. The Spaniards named the state because they saw in its serene vistas something totally fabulous—which reminded them of a legendary island, California. It is still blessed with gold—golden sunshine and shimmering beaches that stretch all along the coast. For the scientist, it provides what gold can buy: big science with world-class research laboratories and the instrumentation and budgets to attract top-notch talent—the Gold Rush has never really ended. With renowned scientific institutions such as Stanford and Berkeley in Northern California and...

  9. Chapter 5 The Invisible Atom Close-up at Caltech
    (pp. 91-106)

    When you travel just a little way outside my hometown of Desuq, you find groves of oranges and tangerines, along with green fields broken by irrigation canals that tap the waters of the Nile’s Rosetta branch on its way to the sea. In some of these fields you may find short stands of cotton shrubs, waist-high or a little higher, and just before the plants are harvested, you can see the lustrous, white fibers bursting out of their bolls. You can even take a boll in hand, and pull out a length of the fiber for which the country is...

  10. Chapter 6 The Race against Time Six Millennia to Femtotime
    (pp. 107-144)

    In the history of human civilization, the measurement of time and the recording of the order and duration of events in the natural world have been among the earliest endeavors that might be classified as science. The development of calendars, which permitted the tracking of the yearly flooding of the Nile Valley in ancient Egypt and of the seasons for planting and harvesting in Mesopotamia, can be traced to the dawn of written language. Ever since, time has been an important concept and it is now recognized as one of the two fundamental dimensions in science, the other being space....

  11. Chapter 7 Time and Matter The Femtouniverse in Perspective
    (pp. 145-158)

    Freeman Dyson, a well-known physicist and science writer, quoted one of his mathematics teachers at Cambridge, Professor Godfrey Hardy, as saying: “A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.” I think the same description applies to scientists in general, but what is meant by ideas —newideas? Some scientific revolutions arise from the invention of new tools or techniques for observing nature; others arise from the discovery of new concepts for understanding nature. Historians seek to explore in depth...

  12. Chapter 8 On the Road to Stockholm Festivities and Fairy Tales
    (pp. 159-184)

    How did you win a Nobel prize? This is one of the common questions I am asked in many places, including Stockholm, the mother city of the award. The process of scientific recognition and the culture of prizes and awards in the sciences may not be familiar to many, especially in the developing world. After all, it was not familiar to me until I became part of the academic community in the United States. So in this chapter I want to go into some detail that may not be of interest to those familiar with this culture, although some may...

  13. Chapter 9 A Personal Vision The World of the Have-Nots
    (pp. 185-210)

    With the laurel of the Nobel, I was bombarded with requests for advice on almost everything—from infertility and birth control to the hole in the ozone layer and to life on Mars. Through e-mails and the Internet, I received questions about life, money, and health—as if I had become Superman with a solution for everything. I even received personal requests, such as one man’s e-mail proposal of marriage to one of my daughters, Amani—his curriculum vitae looked good to me, but this approach wasn’t pleasing to Amani! There were also requests for my signature on the petitions...

  14. Chapter 10 Walks to the Future My Hope for Egypt and America
    (pp. 211-226)

    The arrow of time is well defined in its direction, and life is a transition state that is ephemeral on the time scale of the universe. This seems to be a universal constant: the universe has been expanding over its age of 12–15 billion years; stars age, and even our sun was born 4.6 billion years ago, and in 10 billion years it will shrink and become white hot, a white dwarf, and eventually a dark dwarf—the life and death of stars. The cause of the directionality of time is not obvious. In fact, for some phenomena in...

  15. Epilogue Success—Is There a Formula?
    (pp. 227-230)

    The voyage through time presented in this book began with first steps in a Delta town on the banks of the Nile and ended with discovery in science at Caltech in the California city of Pasadena. My journey had a happy ending—the awarding of the Nobel prize in 1999—though I certainly hope that the prize will not be the end of the road for further achievements in science and life. In this expose I charted the path to that happy ending and the seemingly complex walks of life—I explored the landscape of molecules glimpsed on the scale...

  16. Further Readings
    (pp. 231-234)
  17. Appendix A
    (pp. 235-266)
  18. Index
    (pp. 267-276)