Mario Molina, Nobel Price Laureate

Conserving the Ozone Layer
Professor Mario Molina was born in Mexico City in 1943. He received a post graduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Mexico’s National University (UNAM) in 1965. He earned a second postgraduate degree in Polymer Kinetics from the University of Friburg, Germany, in 1967. He was also awarded a doctorate in Physicochemical from the University of California at Berkley in 1972.

Dr. Molina was a professor at Massachusetts Tech during the period 1989-2004. He has also been a professor and researcher at the UNAM (1967-1968), also at the University of California at Irvine (1975-1979). In addition to this he worked in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) during the 1982-1989 period.

Professor Molina is a pioneer in research into the chemicals comprising the ozone layer in the stratosphere. He was co-author on this topic in 1974 published by the British magazine Nature. This original article predicted the thinning of the ozone layer as a consequence of the emission of certain industrial gases, the chlorinefluorocarbides (CFC’s) that were used at that time as refrigerants, solvents, propellants and they had other applications.

His research was influential in the signing the United Nations Montreal Protocol. This Protocol prohibits the production of CFC’s in developed countries since 1996 and is the first international treaty that has worked to solve an environmental problem on a global scale.

Along with his research group, Professor Molina published a series of articles between the years 1976 and 1986 that identified the chemical properties of the compounds that play an essential role in the decomposition of the ozone in the atmosphere. Mario Molina and his group in their lab demonstrated the existence of a new class of chemical reactions that occur on the surface of ice particles, including the ones present in the atmosphere.

In their lab Mario Molina and his research team proposed and demonstrated a new sequence of catalytic reactions that explained most of the destruction of the ozone in the polar stratosphere. More recently, Professor Molina has been investigating chemicals in the stratospheric pollution in the lower atmosphere. He is also involved in interdisciplinary work collaborating with diverse experts in multiple areas facing the problem of air quality degradation in big cities worldwide.

At this time, Dr. Molina is a Professor at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) where he participates as a member of the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Studies as well as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Professor Molina is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the United States Institute of Medicine. He is also a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Mexican Academy of Sciences and the Mexican Academy of Engineers, among many other institutes.

In 1994, Molina was named by Former President Bill Clinton to serve on the 18-member President’s Committee of Science and Technology Advisers. The PCAST advises the President on issues involving science and technology in achieving national goals and assists the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council in securing private-sector participation in its activities.

The 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded jointly to Paul J. Crutzen, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland “for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone”.

Molina, Rowland, and Crutzen showed that the use of common items like spray cans and air conditioners can harm the fragile ozone layer protecting the world from the dangerous ultra-violet radiation of the sun.

This was the first time that the Swedish Academy awarded a Nobel Prize for research into the impact of man-made objects on the environment”.It’s very rewarding to see how one can simultaneously try to work with problems that affect society in a very direct way,” Dr. Molina said at the time he received his Prize.

According to a Nobel citation Molina, Crutzen, and Rowland: “have all made pioneering contributions in explaining how ozone is formed and decomposes through chemical processes in the atmosphere”.

It goes on to state that they have: “shown how sensitive the ozone layer is to the influence of anthropogenic emissions of certain compounds. By explaining the chemical mechanisms that affect the thickness of the ozone layer, the three researchers have contributed to our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences”.

Molina said that “it does feel like a vindication” for his work to have influenced the ban on ozone-depleting chemical compounds. “I am very happy to be able to celebrate this honor with colleagues here at MIT. I am thankful for all the support from the colleagues and students here,” Molina said.

Another important accomplish for Dr. Mario Molina came in the year 2008. He was designated by President Obama (Presidentelect at the time) making him a member of his transition team as co-leader for plans to develop science and technology policies for the Government.

The announcement was made at the Climate Change Summit in Los Angeles in front of 600 Scientifics where President Obama promised a new chapter in the leadership of the U.S. in areas related to climate change.

In 2009 Dr. Mario Molina received an invitation from President Felipe Calderon to accompany him to the World Economic Forum at Davos. This was where Mexico was one of the main Latin American representatives at that Forum. That was where Calderon and Molina together had the opportunity to exchange points of view with Al Gore (Nobel Prize Winner in 2007), Fred Krupp (President of the Defense Fund of the Environment) and Jacques Marcovitch (Former President of the Environment and the World Economic Forum) on issues regarding the environment and energy.

Mario Molina observed: “…the energetic politic needs to take into account the policies of environmental protection, because the counter part is the negation of any sustainable situation”.We need to keep up with the steps taken by the developed countries,” he said, “because their energy generators are more modern and emit less pollution”.

Dr. Molina keeps working with his Centro Mario Molina providing strategic studies on energy and the environment. The Center is committed to these objectives:

  • Participation in establishment of emission norms for ultra-clean fuels to make use of fuels ultralow in their sulfur content and follow-up with authorization of resources for this purpose.
  • Promote sustainable public transport.
  • Promote the accelerated renovation of the vehicular fleet in order to take advantage of new fuels and clean automotive technology.
  • Support the elaboration of a National Strategy for Climatic Action and participate in the conformation of a financed projects portfolio with the Kyoto Protocol mechanism for Clean Development in the Energetic sector.
  • Promote well-oriented measures to decrease the emission of gases with the greenhouse effect associated with energy consumption; the objective is to reach the goal of having a 10% increase in Mexico’s energetic efficiency.

During the inauguration of the new building of the Centro Mario Molina, President Calderon defined it this way: “Doctor Mario Molina and the Center are an example to Mexico and to humanity. He is guardian angel of the Protocol of Montreal that has been so important for Mexico”.