Early morning news streamed over global media announced that Professor Ahmed Zwail, the father of femtosecond Science, for which he was awarded the Noble prize in chemistry, has passed away. This great scientist, with unwavering lifetime commitment to the advancement of science as well as the advancement, and the development through science, of his mother country, Egypt, and the Arab and Islamic countries, will be immensely missed.
I first met Ahmed Zwail briefly at the LBL national laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley in the early seventies. Since then, I followed his rapid ascent to the peak of scientific accomplishments and was fortunate enough to reconnect with him several times this millennium. One encounter was in Kuwait when he served in 2007, as co-Chair of a Blue-Ribbon Amiri Commission tasked with reviewing the state of R&D in Kuwait and making recommendations to enhance its development and contribution to society. Dr. Zwail passed away this morning after a courageous struggle against an aggressive type of cancer diagnosed in 2013.
In the same day and in that same afternoon, I heard the other sad news of the day of the departure of Professor Robert Mabro, another world renowned Egyptian Arab scientist. A giant oil and energy economics scholar and a shining star in all his endeavors in teaching, research and academic work, Dr. Mabro was a unique individual. In addition to his distinguished academic expertise, he had a personality that combined friendliness, humanity, humility and sincerity, with the ability to make all those fortunate around him feel at ease and full of joy and happiness which he radiated. Dr. Mabro’s rigorous scientific work and insightful perspectives on oil, and energy in general, was highly recognized and widely referenced and sought after around the world, by policy and design makers from both consuming and producing oil countries. He leaves behind a legacy of iconic accomplishments in his field and a lasting emptiness in the hearts of all those who came to know him.
I have been lucky to have met Dr. Robert Mabro first in 1979 at the first or second Oxford Energy Seminar which he brilliantly led annually, as well as being at the top of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, which he also established, and remained its leader until he stepped down few years ago for advanced age and related health condition.
The sad news that came in twos, on the same day, made it harder to absorb and accept. It was particularly sad and regrettable that both scientists were forced to take up another home country in order to incubate and enable their brilliance in their respective fields where they showed dedication to science and academia. Dr. Zwail chose the USA and Dr. Mabro the UK.
Life stream goes on flowing, enriched by the inspiring legacies of great scientists and humanists like Mabro and Zwail.
The scientific community and the academic world mourn the loss of the two scientists, especially in the Arab world, and especially now, as we search desperately through the darkness that engulfs our region for inspiration to guide us in our pursuit for a path to a better and brighter future for our children. What better universal inspiration than science! We will miss both of them dearly.
Dr. Adnan A. Shihab-Eldin
Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences