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Mostafa A. El-Sayed

Mostafa A. El-Sayed (1933– )

“I am very fortunate and lucky to be doing science in America. There are so many excellent people doing science all over this country.”
–Mostafa A. El-Sayed

National Medal of Science (NMS)recipient in 2007 “for his seminal contributions to our understanding of the electronic and optical properties of nano-materials and to their applications in nano-catalysis and nano-medicine; his humanitarian efforts in promoting the exchange of ideas; and his role in developing the scientific leadership of tomorrow.”

Mostafa A. El-Sayed, the son of a mathematics teacher, was born in Zifta, an Egyptian town in the Nile Delta. He was the youngest of seven siblings and his older brother, Mohamed, raised him after their parents died when El-Sayed was 10 years old. He attended local schools through secondary school, and then traveled to Cairo to study at Ein Shams University.

Shortly after graduating in 1953, he came upon an advertisement in an Egyptian newspaper for fellowships at The Florida State University (FSU). El-Sayed was the first foreign student to successfully pass the exams required for entrance into the fellowship program. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from FSU in 1958.

After completing his fellowship, El-Sayed returned to Egypt with his wife, an American he had met during his doctoral program, but they soon came back to the United States in search of a better life for their five children. In 1961, he was appointed to the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he remained until joining the Georgia Institute of Technology faculty in 1994. He is currently director of Georgia Tech’s Laser Dynamics Laboratory, and has a spectroscopy law named after him.

Mostafa A. El-Sayed 
        at the 2007 National Medal of Science White House ceremony

Mostafa A. El-Sayed at the 2007 National Medal of Science White House ceremony. Credit: Christy Bowe-ImageCatcher News for the National Science Foundation

El-Sayed began to think about the applications of his work in nanotechnology for cancer research in 2005, after his wife passed away from the disease. El-Sayed has developed a skin cancer treatment through the use of gold nanorods, which bind to cancer cells and scatter light, making the cells easier to detect and kill with lasers. El-Sayed's son Ivan, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, is now testing the treatment on humans.

El-Sayed, the first Arab-American to receive the NMS, has been commended for his collaborative efforts with the scientific community in Egypt, where funding for research is scarce.

“Scientific research is not only a matter of minds,” he said. “Just as important is providing the millions of dollars for labs and equipment and for the salaries necessary for researchers. How can you expect creative work from a researcher whose mind is preoccupied with the price of bread, or with petrol for his car, or with the other expenses of life?”

With support from the National Science Foundation, El-Sayed has taken a number of American nanotechnology scientists to meet with scientists in Egypt, with the hope that these trips will encourage Egyptian universities to devote more time and resources to research.

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