Mario Molina and John Spengler, groundbreaking pioneers in the way air pollution affects human health, share this year's Heinz Award for the Environment.
Mario Molina, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the world's leading authorities on pollution and the effects of chemical pollution on the environment.
In 1995, he shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for joint research on the effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the earth's atmosphere. He and a colleague were the first to show that CFCs widely used in refrigeration and household aerosol can propellants, such as hair spray, were destroying the ozone layer, which protects the earth from the most damaging rays of the sun. In 1995, 20 years after their seminal article appeared in Nature magazine, the production of CFCs was banned in developed countries by the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement convened by the United Nations Environment Programme.
Dr. Molina has continued teaching and research. When scientists discovered a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in 1984, some skeptics still questioned whether CFCs were causing the damage. He showed how chlorine-activation reactions were taking place in the presence of ice under polar stratospheric conditions and eating away the ozone layer. In recent years, he has directed a joint project between MIT and local government in Mexico City to improve the dangerous air quality situation in his hometown.
The individual work of Doctors Molina and Spengler has been extraordinary. But their combined work covers the full range of human health issues related to air pollution, from indoor and ambient air pollution to the global problems of stratospheric ozone depletion and the consequences of fossil fuel combustion. These scientists have used their brilliance to heighten public awareness of the risks of air pollution and have helped to open our eyes to the impact of our own actions and championed new thinking about our stewardship of the earth's resources.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
April 2009 - Mario Molina appointed to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group of the nation's leading scientists and engineers who advise the President and Vice President in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people. - Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President
July 2006 - Mario Molina announces the formation of the Clean Air Institute and its first project, the Clean Air Initiative for Latin America. Dr. Molina serves as the institute's board chairman. - Business Wire
July 2005 - Molina is named one of the outstanding "trailblazers" in science by Science Spectrum magazine.
October 2004 - Mario Molina opens a new research center, the Molino Center, in Mexico City. The new institute will provide a base camp for scientists, policy-makers, and businessmen who are working toward "resolving environmental and energy problems" in the area. - The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 2004 - Mario Molina is named as one of the "50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business" according to Hispanic Engineer magazine.
May 2004 - Mario Molina proposes "a 10-year plan for cleaning Mexico's air" which Molina sees as one of the main causes to the myriad health issues that plague the region. The plan includes raising gas prices in an attempt to reduce the sulfur levels which cause the atrocious pollution. - United Press International
February 2004 - Molina takes a job with the University of California at San Diego's chemistry department where he will be the university's 16th Nobel Prize-winning faculty member. He will also be working with the Scripps Institution for Oceanography. - The San Diego Union-Tribune
October 2003 - Molina is honored as the Museum of Science and Industry's Hispanic Scientist of the Year. At the sold-out event, Molina is praised for his breakthrough discoveries and research in the field of chemistry throughout his lifetime. - St. Petersburg Times
Speech3/3/2003 - Acceptance Speech
I'm greatly honored that I have been selected to receive the Heinz Award for the Environment, together with my colleague Jack Spengler. I would like to thank Teresa, the Heinz Family Foundation, and the jurors for making this possible.
For me, this award represents recognition for years of work carried out in collaboration with many colleagues in the scientific community. And so, I feel this honor belongs to them as well. And to my wife, Louisa, who has been my closest collaborator for many years.
Human society is now facing immense environmental challenges such as air and water pollution, climate change, and loss of bio-diversity. However, even global environmental problems can be addressed effectively, provided there is a strong political wheel. Many years ago I started investigating one such problem, namely stratospheric ozone depletion. This issue is now largely solved, demonstrating that international environmental agreements can succeed if scientists, decision makers, and government, and representatives from industry and non-governmental organizations, work together.
Another problem I have been concerned with is urban and regional air pollution. To a large extent, most major sources of air pollution can now be controlled with existing technologies, such as catalytic converters for modern vehicles. As a consequence, air quality has improved significantly in the United States and in other industrialized nations. However, air quality has become a very serious public health problem in the rapidly growing cities of most developing countries because emission control technologies often involve considerable costs. It is clear that these problems cannot be solved by science and technology alone, and economic, social and political issues need to be considered as well. Nevertheless, these problems can be addressed. Not long ago, Mexico City was considered to be the most polluted city in the world. But its air quality is finally beginning to improve, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Mexican government with the academic and industrial sectors. However, much work remains to be done before the air quality in the Mexico City area and the many cities throughout the developing world can be considered satisfactory.
Once again, I'm greatly honored to be a recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment. This award provides a powerful incentive for me to continue to work for the preservation of our environment.