Mario J. Molina

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Mario J. Molina
Mario Molina 1c389 8387.jpg
Molina in 2011
Born (1943-03-19) March 19, 1943 (age 75)
Mexico City, Mexico
Alma materNational Autonomous University of Mexico
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
University of California, Berkeley
Known forResearched the threat of CFCs to the ozone layer in the stratosphere.
Spouse(s)Luisa Y. Tan (1973), Guadalupe Alvarez (2006)[1]
AwardsTyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1983)
Newcomb Cleveland Prize (1987)
NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1989),[2]
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1995)
UN Environment Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize (1999)
The 9th Annual Heinz Award in the Environment (2003)[3]
The Volvo Environment Prize (2004).[4]
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2013)[5]
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California, San Diego
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
University of California, Irvine
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México[6][7]
Website (in Spanish)
External audio
"Whatever Happened to the Ozone Hole? : An environmental success story", Distillations Podcast 230, Science History Institute, April 17, 2018

Mario José Molina-Pasquel Henríquez (born March 19, 1943) is a Mexican-born American chemist known for his pivotal role in the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. He was a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in elucidating the threat to the Earth's ozone layer of chlorofluorocarbon gases (or CFCs). He became the first Mexican-born citizen to ever receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[8]

In 2004 Molina accepted the positions of professor at the University of California, San Diego and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Molina is also Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment in Mexico City. Molina is a climate policy adviser to President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto.[9]


Molina is the son of Roberto Molina-Pasquel, a lawyer and judge who went on to serve as chief Ambassador to Ethiopia, Australia and the Philippines in 1923,[1] and Leonor Henríquez. As a child he converted a bathroom into his own little laboratory, using toy microscopes and chemistry sets. He looked up to his aunt Esther Molina, who was a chemist, and who helped him with his experiments.[10]

After completing his basic studies in Mexico City and at the Institut auf dem Rosenberg in Switzerland[1][11] he earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1965. In 1967 he earned his postgraduate degree in polymerization kinetics at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, West Germany, and in 1972 a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, working with George Pimentel.[6][7] Molina married chemist Luisa Y. Tan in July 1973. They moved to Irvine, California that fall.[12]

In 1974, as a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Irvine, he and Rowland co-authored a paper in the journal Nature highlighting the threat of CFCs to the ozone layer in the stratosphere.[13] At the time, CFCs were widely used as chemical propellants and refrigerants. Molina and Rowland followed up the short Nature paper with a 150-page report for the AEC, which they made available at the September 1974 meeting of the American Chemical Society in Atlantic City. This report and an ACS-organized press conference, in which they called for a complete ban on further releases of CFCs into the atmosphere, brought national attention.[14]

Rowland and Molina's findings were disputed by commercial manufacturers and chemical industry groups, and a public consensus on the need for action only began to emerge in 1976 with the publication of a review of the science by the National Academy of Sciences. Rowland and Molina's work was further supported by evidence of the long-term decrease in stratospheric ozone over Antarctica, published by Joseph C. Farman and his co-authors in Nature in 1985. Ongoing work led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol (an agreement to cut CFC production and use) by 56 countries in 1987, and to further steps towards the worldwide elimination of CFCs from aerosol cans and refrigerators. It is for this work that Molina later shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[15] Molina was one of twenty-two Nobel Laureates who signed the third Humanist Manifesto in 2003.[16]

Between 1974 and 2004 Molina variously held research and teaching posts at University of California, Irvine, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he held a joint appointment in the Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the Department of Chemistry.[6] On July 1, 2004 Molina joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at University of California, San Diego and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.[17] In addition he established a non-profit organization, which opened the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment (Centro Mario Molina para Estudios Estratégicos sobre Energía y Medio Ambiente) in Mexico City in 2005. Mario Molina serves as its director.[18]

Molina served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 2000-2005.[19] He also served on the board of directors of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (2004-2014),[20] and as a member of the MacArthur Foundation's Institutional Policy Committee and its Committee on Global Security and Sustainability.[21]

Molina was nominated to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as of July 24, 2000.[22] He served as a co-chair of the Vatican workshop and report Well Under 2 Degrees Celsius: Fast Action Policies to Protect People and the Planet from Extreme Climate Change (2017) with Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Durwood Zaelke. The report proposed 12 scalable and practical solutions which are part of a three-lever cooling strategy to mitigate climate change.[23][24]

Molina was named by U.S. President Barack Obama to form a transition team on environmental issues in 2008.[25] Under President Obama, he was a member of the United States President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.[26]

Molina and his first wife, Luisa T. Molina, are divorced. Luisa Tan Molina is the lead scientist of the Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment in La Jolla, California.[27] Their son works as a physician in Boston.[1] Mario Molina married his second wife, Guadalupe Álvarez, in February 2006.[1]

His discovery[edit]

Mario Molina joined the lab of Professor F. Sherwood Rowland in 1973 as a postdoctoral fellow. Here, Molina continued Rowland's pioneering research into "hot atom" chemistry, which is the study of chemical properties of atoms with, and only with, excess translational energy owing to radioactive processes.[10][28]

This study soon led to research into chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), apparently harmless gases that were used in refrigerants, aerosol sprays, and the making of plastic foams.[29] CFCs were being released by human activity and were known to be accumulating in the atmosphere. The basic scientific question Molina asked was "What is the consequence of society releasing something to the environment that wasn’t there before?"[28]

Rowland and Molina had investigated compounds similar to CFCs before. Together they developed the CFC ozone depletion theory, by combining basic scientific knowledge about the chemistry of ozone, CFCs and atmospheric conditions with computer modelling. First Molina tried to figure out how CFCs could be decomposed. At lower levels of the atmosphere, they were inert. Molina realized that if CFCs released into the atmosphere do not decay by other processes, they will continually rise to higher altitudes. Higher in the atmosphere, different conditions apply. The highest levels of the stratosphere are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light. A thin layer of ozone floating high in the stratosphere protects lower levels of the atmosphere from that type of radiation.[29]

Molina theorized that photons from ultraviolet light, known to break down oxygen molecules, could also break down CFCs, releasing a number of products including chlorine atoms into the stratosphere. Chlorine atoms (Cl) are radicals: they have an unpaired electron and are very reactive. Chlorine atoms react easily with ozone molecules (O3), removing one oxygen atom to leave O2 and chlorine monoxide (ClO).[29][30]

Cl· + O
→ ClO· + O

ClO is also a radical, which reacts with ozone to release two O2 molecules and a Cl atom. The radical Cl atom is not consumed in these reactions, so it remains in the system.[29][30]

ClO· + O· → Cl· + O

Molina and Rowland predicted that chlorine atoms, produced by this decomposition of CFCs, would act as an ongoing catalyst for the destruction of ozone. When they calculated the amounts involved they realized that CFCs could start a seriously damaging chain reaction to the ozone layer in the stratosphere.[15][10][28]

Rowland and Molina published their findings in Nature on June 28, 1974, and also made an effort to announce their findings outside of the scientific community, informing policy makers and the news media of their work. As a result of their work, laws were established to protect the ozone layer by regulating the use of CFCs.[10][28]


Mario Molina (left) with his countryman Luis E. Miramontes co-inventor of the first oral contraceptive, ca. 1995

Mario Molina has received numerous awards and honors,[6][7] including sharing the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Paul J. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Rowland for their discovery of the role of CFCs in ozone depletion.[2]

Molina was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993.[31] He was elected to the United States Institute of Medicine in 1996,[32] and The National College of Mexico in 2003.[33] He is also a member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences.[6] Molina is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and co-chaired the 2014 AAAS Climate Science Panel, What We Know: The reality, risks and response to climate change.[34]

Molina won the 1987 Esselen Award of the Northeast section of the American Chemical Society, the 1988 Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the 1989 NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Advancement and the 1989 United Nations Environmental Programme Global 500 Award. In 1990, The Pew Charitable Trusts Scholars Program in Conservation and the Environment honored him as one of ten environmental scientists and awarded him a $150,000 grant.[6][35][36] He received the 1998 Willard Gibbs Award from the Chicago Section of the American Chemical Society[37] and the 1998 American Chemical Society Prize for Creative Advances in Environment Technology and Science[38]. In 2003, Molina received the 9th Annual Heinz Award in the Environment.

Asteroid 9680 Molina is named in his honor.[39]

On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama announced Molina as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,[40] citing in the press release:

Mario Molina is a visionary chemist and environmental scientist. Born in Mexico, Dr. Molina came to America to pursue his graduate degree. He later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer. Dr. Molina is a professor at the University of California, San Diego; Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment; and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.[5]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Mario Molina has received more than thirty honorary degrees.[6]

  • Yale University (1997)[41]
  • Tufts University (2003)[42]
  • Duke University (2009)[43]
  • Harvard University (2012)[44]
  • Mexican Federal Universities: National of Mexico (1996), Metropolitana (2004), Chapingo (2007), National Polytechnic (2009)
  • Mexican State Universities: Hidalgo (2002),[45] State of Mexico (2006),[46] Michoacan (2009),[47] Guadalajara (2010),[48] San Luis Potosí (2011)[49]
  • U.S. Universities: Miami (2001), Florida International (2002), Southern Florida (2005), Claremont Graduate (announced 2013)
  • U.S. Colleges: Connecticut (1998), Trinity (2001), Washington (2011), Whittier (2012), Williams (2015)
  • Canadian Universities: Calgary (1997), Waterloo (2002), British Columbia (2011)
  • European Universities: East Anglia (1996), Alfonso X (2009), Complutense of Madrid (2012), Free of Brussels (2010),


Technical Reports:


  1. ^ a b c d e Molina, Mario (2007). "Autobiography". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  2. ^ a b Massachusetts Institute of Technology (October 11, 1995). "MIT's Mario Molina wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovery of ozone depletion". Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  3. ^ The Heinz Awards, Mario Molina profile
  4. ^ Volvo Environment Prize
  5. ^ a b "President Obama Names Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. August 8, 2013. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Center for Oral History. "Mario J. Molina". Science History Institute.
  7. ^ a b c Caruso, David J.; Roberts, Jody A. (7 May 2013). Mario J. Molina, Transcript of an Interview Conducted by David J. Caruso and Jody A. Roberts at The Mario Molina Center, Mexico City, Mexico, on 6 and 7 May 2013 (PDF). Philadelphia, PA: Chemical Heritage Foundation.
  8. ^ García Hernández, Arturo (1995-10-12). "Ojalá que mi premio estimule la investigación en México". La Jornada (in Spanish). Mario Molina, primer mexicano que obtiene el premio Nobel de Química...
  9. ^ Governments Await Obama’s Move on Carbon to Gauge U.S. Climate Efforts May 26, 2014 NYT
  10. ^ a b c d (Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1991-1995)). (1997). World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte.Ltd. River Edge, NJ. P 245-249.
  11. ^ "Bilan Magazine". Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  12. ^ "Molina, Mario (1943- )". World of Earth Science. 2003. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  13. ^ Mario Molina and FS Rowland (28 June 1974). "Stratospheric Sink for Chlorofluoromethanes: Chlorine Atom-Catalysed Destruction of Ozone". Nature 249. pp. 810–2. doi:10.1038/249810a0.
  14. ^ "This Week's Citation Classic: Rowland F S & Molina M J. Chiorofluoromethanes in the environment. Rev. Geophvs. Space Phys. 13: 1-35. 1975. Department of Chemistry. University of California. Irvine. CA" (PDF). Current Contents. 49: 12. December 7, 1987. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Chlorofluorocarbons and Ozone Depletion: A National Historic Chemical Landmark". International Historic Chemical Landmarks. American Chemical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  16. ^ "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on October 5, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  17. ^ McDonald, Kim (February 5, 2004). "Nobel Prize-Winning Chemist Joins UCSD Faculty". UCSD News. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  18. ^ Denmark, Bonnie. "Mario Molina: Atmospheric Chemistry to Change Global Policy". VisionLearning. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  19. ^ "Mario J. Molina Symposium Atmospheric& Chemistry, Climate, and Policy". U.S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information. 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Past Board Members". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Board of Directors". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Mario José Molina". Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  23. ^ "Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences Proposes Practical Solutions to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change". Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  24. ^ "Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences to publish Well Under 2C: Ten Solutions for Carbon Neutrality & Climate Stability". Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. March 13, 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  25. ^ Brown, Susan (August 9, 2013). "Presidential Medal of Freedom to be Awarded to Two UC San Diego Professors". UC San Diego News Center. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  26. ^ "PCAST Members". Office of Science and Technology Policy. The White House. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  27. ^ "Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment". GuideStar. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  28. ^ a b c d "Mario J. Molina, Ph.D." Academy of Achievement. June 29, 1996. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  29. ^ a b c d "Mario Molina". Science History Institute. December 12, 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  30. ^ a b Holleman, Arnold Frederick; Aylett, Bernhard J.; Brewer, William; Eagleson, Mary; Wiberg, Egon (2001). Inorganic chemistry (1st English ed.). Academic Press. p. 462.
  31. ^ "Mario J. Molina". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  32. ^ Silverman, Edward (November 25, 1996). "Institute Of Medicine Increases Its Percentages Of Minority, Women Members In Latest Election". The Scientist. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  33. ^ "Membros: Mario Molina". El Colegio Nacional. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  34. ^ "What We Know: The reality, risks and response to climate change" (PDF). What We Know. AAAS. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  35. ^ Oakes, Elizabeth. (2002). A to Z of Chemists. Facts on File Inc. New York, New York. P 143-145.
  36. ^ "Mario Molino". PEW. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  37. ^ "History of the Willard Gibbs Medal". Archived from the original on 2011-07-23.
  38. ^ "ACS Award in Environment". Archived from the original on 2014-05-14.
  39. ^ Jet Propulsion Laboratory Small-Body Database Browser. "9680 Molina (3557 P-L)". Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  40. ^ Robbins, Gary (November 20, 2013). "White House honors Molina, Ride". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  41. ^ "Honorary degrees by Yale". Archived from the original on 2015-05-21.
  42. ^ "Honorary degrees by Tufts".
  43. ^ "Honorary degrees granted by Duke in 2009".
  44. ^ "Honorary degrees granted by Harvard in 2012".
  45. ^ "Honorary Doctorate by Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo (spanish)".
  46. ^ "Honorary Doctorate by Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico (spanish)" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  47. ^ "Honorary Doctorate by Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo (spanish)". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22.
  48. ^ "Honorary Doctorate by Universidad de Guadalajara (spanish)".
  49. ^ "Honorary Doctorate by Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi (spanish)". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22.

External links[edit]