The scientist with the fastest eyes

By | March 8, 2010

The scientist with the fastest eyes

Light travels at an astonishing speed of 186,000 miles per second. Yet this speed is insignificant compared to the fastness of the chemical reactions that keep us alive. For, these reactions occur in femtoseconds or less.

A femtosecond is almost an abstraction: It’s 0.000000000000001 seconds — that is, one millionth of a nanosecond, which itself is one billionth of one second. In other words, a femtosecond is to a second as a second is to 32 million years.

The femto concept ushered the new field of femtochemistry, pioneered by a modern-day genius, Ahmed H. Zewail, the 1999 Nobel laureate in chemistry.

In femtochemistry, Zewail uses fast laser technique to take pictures of the atoms and molecules as they are functioning, in real time. Zewail’s technique, said the Nobel Committee chairman, “can be likened to Galileo’s use of his telescope, which he directed toward everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his femtosecond laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope toward the frontiers of science.”

Zewail was born in 1946 in Damanhûr, Egypt, a Nile Delta city between Rosetta and Alexandria. Rosetta was where the Rosetta Stone — a stone that helped to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and texts — was unearthed in 1799. And Alexandria once had one of the greatest libraries of all time.

All this history held a special meaning to young Zewail, for, from his early years he wanted to lead a life of learning and discovery in the world of science.

He is at the pinnacle of his career as Linus Pauling professor of chemistry and professor of physics at California Institute of Technology, and director of Caltech Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology.

He has integrated the fields of chemistry, physics and biology. This integration has led him to his breakthrough development of 4D imaging, which pictures the molecular systems in the four dimensions of space and time. His discoveries have opened the way to the medicines of the future for the scourges like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. …

via FAZLUR RAHMAN: The scientist with the fastest eyes » Standard-Times.

How can chemical reactions move faster than the speed of light?

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