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MIT's Mario Molina wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovery of ozone depletion

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 11--The 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded today (Wednesday, Oct. 11, 1995) to MIT Professor Mario Molina for discovering the depletion of the ozone layer, which the Nobel committee termed "the Achilles heel of the universe."

Professor Molina shares the $1 million prize with Professor Paul Crutzen of the Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, who is a Dutch citizen, and Professor F. Sherwood Rowland of the Department of Chemistry at the University of California at Irvine. Crutzen discovered in 1970 that nitrogen oxides accelerate ozone reduction.

Molina and Rowland in 1974 published an article in Nature magazine on the developing threat to the ozone layer from the use of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases, the freons used in spray bottles, in refrigeration and in plastic foams. The Nobel committee noted that although many were critical of the Molina-Rowland calculations, "it was to turn out that they had even underestimated the risk."

MIT President Charles M. Vest commented, "We are extremely pleased that such a productive and respected member of the MIT community has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. This award emphasizes that the most fundamental scientific inquiry can turn out to have extremely important ramifications for our world. It also shows that sometimes nice guys finish first."

Molina holds a joint appointment in the Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the Department of Chemistry.


Biographical Sketch

Mario J. Molina
Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mario J. Molina, a world leader in developing our understanding of the chemistry of the stratospheric ozone layer, is the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Sciences in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Professor Molina's work led to the first definitive demonstration of a truly global environmental effect of human activities-the chlorofluorocarbon-ozone depletion theory first presented in 1974. He was the principal author of the paper describing this theory.

Dr. Molina was also principal author or co-author on a meritorious series of papers from 1976-86 that defined and refined the relevant kinetics of the compounds that act as "temporary reservoirs" for the free radicals responsible for catalytic ozone destruction.

More recently, he demonstrated in the laboratory a fundamental new chemical reaction whereby the reservoir compounds ClONO2 and HC1 can decompose on the surface of ice cloud particles in the polar stratosphere yielding Cl2 and thus Cl and ClO. Equally important he proposed and demonstrated experimentally a new reaction sequence involving formation and decomposition of ClOOCl, which enables the above ClO in polar regions to catalytically destroy ozone. This contribution of a new chemical reaction and a new catalytic cycle appears to account for most if not all of the observed ozone destruction in the Antarctic Ozone Hole.

Dr. Molina's latest research directions include work at the interface of the atmosphere-biosphere, which is critical to understanding global climate-change processes.

Professor Molina has received several awards for his scientific work including the Tyler Award in 1983, the Esselen Award of the American Chemical Society in 1987, and the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his 1987 paper in Science describing his work on the Antarctic Ozone Hole chemistry. In 1989 he received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, and from 1990-92 he was a Pew Scholar on Conservation and the Environment.

In 1994 Professor Molina was named by President Clinton to serve on the 18-member President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The PCAST advises the President on issues involving science and technology in achieving national goals, and assists the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council in securing private-sector participation in its activities.

Professor Molina was born in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1943. He came to MIT in 1989 after holding teaching and research positions at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico ; the University of California, Berkeley; the Univerisity of California, Irvine and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

He holds the chemical engineer degree (1965) from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, a postgraduate degree (1967) from the University of Freiburg, West Germany, and the PhD (1972) from the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Molina is married to Luisa T. Molina, who also conducts research at MIT related to ozone depletion. Luisa Molina is a Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Their son, Felipe, is a freshman at Brown University. The family lives in Lexington, Mass.

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