Remembering Mario J. Molina: A Brief Tribute to a Truly Great Public-Spirited Scientist

Author(s)
Karim Ahmed, Ph.D., NCSE Board Director

Dr. Mario J. Molina, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for work on chlorofluorocarbons and their impacts on the ozone layer, passed away October 7, 2020. NCSE was honored to have Dr. Molina and Dr. Sherwood Rowland present "THE CFC-OZONE PUZZLE: Environmental Science in the Global Arenafor the inaugural Chafee Memorial Lecture at the first NCSE Annual Conference in 2000. 

NCSE joins the scientific community in remembering him as a changemaker, honoring his use of science to support environmental policies, and celebrating his work to improve our global environment.  

 

Back in the mid-1970s, when I first met Mario, it was at one of the many scientific meetings and Congressional hearings that were being held in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the federal government should address the impact of a group of chemical compounds—called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—on Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. Both of us were relatively young scientists then, having obtained our doctorates within the previous five years.  

In 1973, Mario had joined Sherwood (“Sherry”) Rowland’s physical chemistry lab as a post-doc at the University of California, Irvine. The following year, they published their ground-breaking paper on CFC/stratospheric ozone in the journal Nature (June 28, 1974). That fall, when I joined the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), I contacted Sherry and invited him to a press conference in New York City where we were calling upon the federal government to ban the use of CFCs in consumer products. From that point on, both Sherry and Mario were drawn into the science and policy arena, meeting all obstacles before them with enormous patience and grace.  

From left to right: Senator Lincoln D. Chafee, Dr. A. Karim Ahmed, Dr. Mario J. Molina, Mrs. John H. Chafee, and Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland at the inaugural John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture in 2000.
From left to right: Senator Lincoln D. Chafee, Dr. A. Karim Ahmed, Dr. Mario J. Molina, Mrs. John H. Chafee, and Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland at the inaugural John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture at the first NCSE Annual Conference in 2000.

 

Mario was one the most brilliant scientists that I’ve had good fortune to meet in my life. He was meticulous in conducting his research in determining the intricate and complex atmospheric chemistry in the ozone layer. That was key to what happened next. Beginning in the late 1970s, CFCs were gradually phased out, culminating in the adoption of the landmark Montreal Protocol in 1987. In 1995, Sherry and Mario, along with their Dutch colleague, Paul Crutzen, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 

 

 

 

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