Renowned atmospheric chemist and MIT Institute Professor Emeritus Mario Molina, who discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) had the potential to destroy the ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere, has died at the age of 77.
At MIT, Molina held joint appointments in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and the Department of Chemistry, from 1989 to 2004.
In the early 1970s, Molina demonstrated through computer modeling and laboratory work that compounds widely used in propellants and refrigerants could destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere, increasing the ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth. His theories were later confirmed by observation and helped support the ratification of the Montreal Protocol, the first global treaty to reduce CFC emissions.
In 1995, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California at Irvine, and Paul Crutzen, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, for discovering the depletion of the Earth’s thin, protective layer of ozone, which the Nobel committee referred to as the “Achilles heel of the universe.” Molina continued to advocate for environmental causes throughout his career.
“Mario Molina was the gentle giant of his age in environmental science, a wise mentor to his students, and respectful of others no matter their rank or status,” says Ronald Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science in EAPS, who led the search committee that originally brought Molina to MIT. “We are privileged to have had him on the faculty at MIT for 15 years, during the middle of which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, and from the proceeds of which he established the Molina Fellowships at MIT. His work on mitigating depletion of the ozone layer and air pollution in megacities is legendary. Most recently he founded the Centro Mario Molina devoted to the transition from fossil energy to clean energy in Mexico and beyond. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.”