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Molina awarded UNEP's most prestigious environmental prize

The 1999 UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize has been awarded to Institute Professor Mario J. Molina for his global contributions in the field of atmospheric chemistry, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced last week.

The prize, worth $200,000 and considered one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world, will be presented at United Nations Headquarters in New York on November 17. It has been awarded each year since 1984 to honor "outstanding global contributions to the management and protection of the environment."

"The prize has been awarded to Professor Molina for his pioneering investigations on the chemistry of the ozone layer, which have led to a better scientific understanding of the effect of human activities on the atmosphere," said Lord Stanley Clinton-Davis, chairman of the selection committee. "The confidence with which many aspects of the science of ozone destruction is now understood comes directly from Professor Molina's work."

Professor Molina and his colleagues discovered a previously unknown reaction whereby chlorine is activated on the surface of ice cloud particles in the polar atmosphere. Professor Molina, who is the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Sciences and a professor of chemistry, also demonstrated a new reaction sequence involving chlorine peroxide, which accounts for most of the ozone destruction in the Antarctic. He was co-author of a 1974 paper in Nature on the developing threat to the ozone layer from the use of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases, the freons used in spray bottles, refrigeration and plastic foams.

Professor Molina shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He donated two-thirds of his Nobel prize money to set up fellowships to help scientists from developing countries conduct research in environmental science. He continues his research on stratospheric chemistry and tropospheric pollution including problems of rapidly growing cities.

"Professor Molina's leadership greatly contributed to making the UNEP-brokered Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer a reality. The speed with which countries ratified this precedent-setting international agreement was due in great part to the role he played in communicating to policy-makers, the media and ultimately the general public, the implications of his research," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director.

"This recognition by UNEP represents for me a culmination of my efforts on the protection of the global environment," said Professor Molina. "I appreciate the support I have received from the world community over the years and I hope to continue my commitment to work for the benefit of humanity and the environment."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 10, 1999.

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