Zewail met Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica and was presented with the insignia of the Pontifical Academy. There are only 80 academicians who are members of the Pontifical Academy, which dates back to 1603. He and president David Baltimore, who was appointed in 1978, are two members from Caltech.
The purpose of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological problems.
Candidates are selected based on their work and their moral personality, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
The Pope requires the Academy to "serve the Truth," as stated by Pope Pius XI in 1936. As a member, Zewail will be expected to inform the Pope of scientific developments and their technological applications.
In presenting the honor, the Pope spent more than two hours with new appointees, speaking Italian in his formal address during the ceremony and later speaking English to Zewail one on one.
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