Senator John Heinz

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news

The Heinz Awards

26th

February 5, 2004

The San Diego Union-Tribune

Chemist at MIT coming to Scripps and UCSD
Molina won Nobel Prize for ozone work in 1995

by Eleanor Yang

UC San Diego will announce today that it has lured a Nobel chemist and expert on the destruction of the ozone layer from MIT.

Mario Molina, a distinguished professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will begin a joint appointment at UCSD's chemistry department and Scripps Institution for Oceanography on July 1. "Having Mario Molina join us will create the strongest, most versatile group of atmospheric scientists anywhere," said Mark Thiemens, dean of UCSD's division of physical sciences. Thiemens, who also is an atmospheric chemist, had been courting Molina for the past two years.

Molina, 60, is best known for groundbreaking work published in 1974 that predicted that the continued emissions of chlorofluorocarbon gases, or CFCs, would greatly weaken the ozone layer. He began research in this area as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Irvine with adviser F. Sherwood Rowland. Their published work prompted much criticism from the CFC industry, which called the hypothesis nonsense.

When Molina, Rowland and a colleague now at UCSD, Paul Crutzen, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995, they were vindicated. The acknowledgment from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences brought a new level of prestige to the field of environmental science, then considered soft.

For the past several years, Molina and his wife, a fellow MIT researcher, have been working on a project in Mexico City, Molina's hometown, to assess the causes of and solutions for air pollution. That work has piqued the interest of fellow academics impressed by how he has bridged the realms of lab work, field studies and public policy. The hope among UCSD professors is to get involved in the Mexico City project and expand it around the world.

"We're bound to learn a lot from the project," said Charles Kennel, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Kennel noted that the study of atmospheric sciences at UCSD began in the 1950s, with such noted scholars as Charles Keeling, Roger Revelle and V. Ramanathan.

UCSD Acting Chancellor Marsha Chandler said Molina's work and expertise should mesh beautifully with that of UCSD's team of atmospheric scientists. "I think it's one of the finest groups of atmospheric scientists in the world," said Jim Anderson, the former chair of the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University.

Colleagues at UCSD said they were thrilled with the news yesterday, both because of Molina's research and his philosophy. "He's an amazing person in that he clearly does science to help people," said Kimberly Prather, a fellow atmospheric scientist. Many have been impressed with his altruism. "He's one of the few people I know who gave his Nobel Prize money away to help people in Mexico," Thiemens said. Molina will be UCSD's 16th Nobel Prize winner.

In an autobiography Molina wrote for the Nobel Foundation, he described his fascination with science from the time he was in elementary school. He recalled how as a child, he converted a bathroom into a laboratory and spent hours playing with chemistry sets. Molina wrote that scientific curiosity stimulated his research. "I am heartened and humbled that I was able to do something that not only contributed to our understanding of atmospheric chemistry, but also had a profound impact on the global environment."

Molina has taught at MIT since 1989. He had previously held teaching and research positions at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. His wife, Luisa, will join him in the chemistry department at UCSD this summer.

Mario Molina accepts joint appointment at Scripps and UC San Diego