CAIRO: Femto-technology is not Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail’s only contribution to human progress. At once engaging, entertaining and absorbing, his talk at the Cairo Opera House’s Cultural Salon on Monday titled “The Wealth of Nations and the Revolutions of Thought was filled with grand detours into many cutting-edge ideas, both scientific and not.
Zewail, the Egyptian-American scientist whose research blurred the lines between physics, chemistry, and biology received the top accolade in chemistry for his pioneering work in femtochemistry.
“A Chinese proverb says ‘Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle instead’, Zewail said in his opening words.
The title of the talk alludes to the father of modern economics Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations. From there, Zewail delved into the various ways different nations made the most of their resources and how intellectual revolutions are necessary precursors for such progress.
Progress, he said, can be achieved in many ways. “The Egyptian energy is, no doubt, present but the question lies in the organization capable of utilizing it in full.
Despite his optimism, Zewail didn’t make light of the depreciating intellectual situation in Egypt:
“We don’t need an aspirin, we need an entire treatment. We need a renaissance. The problems we face today are intellectual chaos, corruption, and ethical decline.
He drew an analogy between the human gene and compared it to the “meme, a term that biologist Richard Dawkins had coined. A meme is a social, cultural, intellectual, or even religious unit of ideas that resembles the gene in the processes of self-replication, natural selection and evolution it undergoes.
Zewail drew attention to China, a nation gradually becoming a scientific powerhouse, and attributed this development to their increased spending and nurturing of education and scientific research.
In the US, on the other hand, he pointed out that their thought revolution’s focus is their embracement of individual freedom of expression and the creativity this freedom triggers.
“Currently and in the future, the thought revolution is that of charting and controlling the unseen world, he added.
Zewail gave many examples. In astronomy, there is the ongoing discovery of “exo-planets (planets outside our solar system). In medicine, Zewail talked about cell-specific drug delivery systems. In computer science, Zewail spoke of the highly speculative concept of “quantum internet.
“I say ‘highly’ because the simplest quantum computer or even a quantum circuit is in the stage of pre-conception and it may remain there for a long time. However, Zewail concludes that “all this is not for luxury, and everyone who thinks it is will not make progress. In today’s science, one cannot separate the applied – the practical – from the theoretical.