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Hispanic Heritage

Mario Molina

Also known as: Mario Jose Molina
Birth: 1943
Ethnicity: Mexican, American
Occupation: chemist, educator

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario José Molina was born in Mexico City in March 19, 1943. He graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 1965 with a degree in chemical engineering. Immediately upon graduation, Molina went to West Germany to continue his studies at the University of Freiburg, acquiring the equivalent of his master's degree in polymerization kinetics in 1967. Molina then returned to Mexico to accept a position as assistant professor in the chemical engineering department at his alma mater before furthering his studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in 1972 and became a postdoctoral associate that same year. The following year, 1973, was a turning point in Molina's life. He married fellow chemist Luisa Y. Tan and left Berkeley to continue his postdoctoral work with physical chemist Professor F. Sherwood Rowland, at the University of California at Irvine.

Molina and Rowland shared an interest in the effects of chemical pollutants on the atmosphere. Specifically, they conducted experiments on the effects of chemical pollutants on the stratosphere: a thin, diffuse layer of ozone gas that encircles the planet 10-25 mi (16-24 km) above its surface and filters much of the sun's most damaging ultraviolet radiation. Without this ozone shield, life could not survive in its present incarnation.

The two scientists concentrated their research on the impact of a specific group of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are widely used in such industrial and consumer products as aerosol spray cans, pressurized containers, etc. They found that when CFCs are subjected to massive ultraviolet radiation they break down into their constituent chemicals: chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. It was the impact of chlorine on ozone that alarmed them. They found that each chlorine atom could destroy as many as 100,000 ozone molecules before becoming inactive. With the rapid production of CFCs for commercial and industrial use--millions of tons annually--Molina and Rowland were alarmed that the impact of CFCs on the delicate ozone layer within the stratosphere could be life-threatening. After publishing their results in 1974, Molina was invited to testify before the House of Representatives's Subcommittee on Public Health and Environment. The use of CFCs became an important public issue and manufacturers began searching for alternative propellant gases for their products.

Over the next several years, Molina refined his work and, with Rowland, published additional data on CFCs and the destruction of the ozone layer. In 1976, Mario Molina was named to the National Science Foundation's Oversight Committee on Fluorocarbon Technology Assessment.

In 1982, Molina became a member of the technical staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. In 1989, Mario Molina accepted the dual position of professor of atmospheric chemistry and professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A year later he received a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts Scholars Program in Conservation and the Environment. In 1993, he was selected to be the first holder of a chair at MIT established by the Martin Foundation, Inc., "to support research and education activities related to the studies of the environment."

In 1995, Molina won a share of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer. The Nobel was the first ever awarded for research into the effect of man-made objects on the environment. His work has since been the basis of an international environmental treaty that bans the production of ozone-reducing industrial chemicals. Molina in 1997 accepted the post of Institute professor in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences at MIT, where he continues to teach and research today.

Molina's current research interests center on the chemistry of air pollution of the lower atmosphere. He is particularly interested in tropospheric pollution issues, and collaborates with interdisciplinary teams on the problem of rapidly growing cities with severe air pollution problems. He is the recipient of more than a dozen awards, including the 1987 American Chemical Society Esselen Award, the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Science Newcomb-Cleveland Prize, the 1989 NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Advancement, and the 1989 United Nations Environmental Programme Global 500 Award. Molina was named one of the top 20 Hispanics in Technology in 1998.

 

SOURCE CITATION

World of Scientific Discovery. Online. Gale, 2006.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

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