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Mysteries of time topic of speech by Nobel prize winner

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Zewail’s work helps scientists explore atoms’ love-hate relationship

By Special to the Monitor

Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail will deliver the 40th Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16 in the Duane Smith Auditorium.

The lecture, “The Mysteries and Miracles of Time,” is free and open to the public.

Zewail, who holds the Linus Pauling Chair (endowed) as a professor of physics and chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, earned the Nobel Prize in 1999 for his pioneering work in femtoscience: studying phenomena that occur on the scale of a femtosecond, or a millionth of a billionth of a second.

A femtosecond is to a second as a second is to 3 billion years.

The chemical and biological reactions that drive our lives and the world around us happen on femtosecond timescales.

Zewail developed revolutionary techniques that use ultrashort laser pulses to study events within a microscopic arena.

The   techniques  have been expanded by Zewail’s research team and other researchers worldwide to derive images and motion pictures of molecular interactions important to chemistry, biology and materials science.

Zewail described the importance of the research this way: “Atoms and molecules have an enormously complex sociology, and for centuries chemists have been trying to understand why they sometimes like each other and sometimes hate each other. ”

The technology Zewail developed allows scientists to explore the love-hate relationships of atoms and molecules. Zewail   received the 2011 Priestley Medal, the highest award given by the American Chemical Society.

His commitment to science earned Zewail a role as the nation’s first science envoy to the Middle East, appointed by the Department of State. He also supports the nation by serving on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Zewail’s lecture is sponsored by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, a philanthropic, non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the legacy of scientist Robert Oppenheimer.