Harold S. Johnston

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Harold Sledge Johnston
Born(1920-10-11)October 11, 1920
DiedOctober 20, 2012(2012-10-20) (aged 92)
Alma materCaltech
Known forOzone depletion research
AwardsNational Medal of Science (1997)
Scientific career
FieldsAtmospheric chemistry
InstitutionsStanford University
UC Berkeley
InfluencedDudley R. Herschbach
Susan Solomon

Harold S. "Hal" Johnston[1] (October 11, 1920 – October 20, 2012) was an American scientist who studied chemical kinetics and atmospheric chemistry. After beginning his academic career at Stanford University, he was a faculty member and administrator at the University of California, Berkeley for nearly 35 years. In 1971, Johnston authored a paper suggesting that environmental pollutants could erode the ozone layer.

Johnston was elected to several scholarly organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He won the National Medal of Science in 1997.

Early life[edit]

Johnston was born in Woodstock, Georgia. His father, Smith Lemon Johnston, helped to run his family's general store. They lived on a Georgia farm when Harold Johnston was young. In the early 1930s, Johnston contracted rheumatic fever and the illness affected his heart. A physician uncle told Johnston's father not to send Johnston to college because the young man would not survive long enough to get much use out of the education.[2] Johnston said he later learned that the disease was associated with an average survival period of fifteen years at the time.[3]

Going to college at Emory University with aspirations of becoming a journalist, Johnston soon realized that the U.S. was headed toward World War II and that a science degree would serve him better.[4] Johnston completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a minor in English literature.[5] Johnston received a Ph.D. in chemistry and physics from the California Institute of Technology.[6] As a doctoral student, Johnston focused on the interaction of ozone and the pollutant nitrogen dioxide.[7] While at Caltech, he joined in a secret defense project that involved protecting the country against the use of gas warfare.[8]


From 1947 to 1956, Johnston taught at Stanford University.[9] While there, he was named to the editorial board of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.[10] In the early 1950s, Johnston furthered the air pollution work of Arie Jan Haagen-Smit by showing that free-radical reactions underlay the photochemical process leading to smog. Throughout his career, much of Johnston's work involved understanding the kinetics of nitrogen oxides.[11] He returned to Caltech as a faculty member for a year in 1956.[11]

From 1957 until his retirement in 1991, Johnston was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1966 to 1970, Johnston was the dean of Berkeley's College of Chemistry. Johnston mentored undergraduate and graduate students, including future Nobel Prize winner Dudley R. Herschbach and future National Medal of Science winner Susan Solomon.[9] He also made large contributions to the theory of elementary chemical reactions.[11] He wrote a popular textbook on reaction rate theory.[12]

Johnston became best known for his work related to ozone. In a 1971 paper, he posited that pollution from supersonic aircraft in the stratosphere could deplete the ozone layer.[7] Because it suggested for the first time that human activity could impact the integrity of the environment, Johnston's ozone research received some criticism and resistance.[7] However, two environmental regulatory programs were formed as a result of his findings – the Climatic Impact Assessment Program (CIAP) and the Stratosphere Protection Program.[7]

Honors and awards[edit]

Johnston was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1965.[13] He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1981.[14] In 1972, Johnston was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[15] He won the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1983.[16] He received the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society in 1993.[13] Four years later, Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Science.[7] In 1998, Johnston received the Roger Revelle Medal from the American Geophysical Union.[17]

Later life[edit]

Even in the late 1990s, Johnston said that he had lived most of his life with "a moving 10-year life expectancy" because of his early bout with rheumatic fever, but he remained in good health until he was more than 90 years old.[3] He died in 2012; he was 92. Johnston was survived by his wife of 64 years, Mary Ella, and their four children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.[5]


  1. ^ The American Academy of Arts and Sciences lists Johnston's middle name as Sledge, while his National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir states that his middle name is Siddle.
  2. ^ Somorjai 2016, pp. 2-4.
  3. ^ a b Nguyen, Andy (November 5, 2012). "UC Berkeley chemistry professor Harold Johnston dies at 92". The Daily Californian. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  4. ^ Loftus, Mary. "A pioneer of atmospheric chemistry". Emory Magazine (Spring 2013). Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Harold "Hal" Johnston, noted atmospheric chemist and winner of National Medal of Science, has died". UC Berkeley News Archive. November 2, 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  6. ^ "Biographical notes of Harold Johnston". Journal of Physical Chemistry A. 105 (9): 1391. March 1, 2001. Bibcode:2001JPCA..105.1391.. doi:10.1021/jp004096v. ISSN 1089-5639.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Harold S. Johnston". National Science and Technology Medals Foundation. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  8. ^ Ainsworth, Susan J. (February 25, 2013). "Harold (Hal) Johnston". Chemical & Engineering News. 91 (8): 44. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Harold S. Johnston". University of California. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  10. ^ "Stanford chemists win ACS posts". The Stanford Daily. February 10, 1954. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Wuebbles, Donald (February 26, 2013). "Harold S. Johnston (1920–2012)". Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union. 94 (9): 88. Bibcode:2013EOSTr..94...88W. doi:10.1002/2013EO090006. ISSN 2324-9250.
  12. ^ Somorjai 2016, p. 9.
  13. ^ a b "Harold Johnston". www.nasonline.org. National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  14. ^ (System), University of California (March 16, 1981). "AAAS elects UC faculty members". University Bulletin: A Weekly Bulletin for the Staff of the University of California. 29 (23): 92. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  15. ^ "Professor Harold Sledge Johnston". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  16. ^ "1983 Tyler Laureates". Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  17. ^ "Roger Revelle Medal". American Geophysical Union. 3 August 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2016.