For years, the chemicals used in hair sprays and refrigerators have wreaked havoc on the ozone layer, the protective shroud that shields us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. But it wasn’t until 1974 that people started to take notice.
It was the year that Mexican scientist Mario Molina published a research paper which showed that chlorofluorocarbons – widely used in refrigerator coolants, spray paint, deodorant sprays and other aerosol products – were diaper depleting. of ozone. The consequences were disastrous, because without the ozone layer to protect us from the sun, our planet would not be habitable. His research has helped change global environmental policy.
To honor Molina’s pioneering efforts to combat an environmental catastrophe, Google dedicated its Doodle to Molina on the Nobel Prize-winning scientist’s 80th birthday.
Born March 19, 1943, in Mexico City, Molina was drawn to science from an early age, turning a bathroom in his home into a makeshift lab for his chemistry sets.
“I was already fascinated by science before entering high school,” Molina wrote in a biography on the Nobel website. “I still remember my excitement when I first looked at paramecia and amoebas through a rather primitive toy microscope.”
After being sent to a Swiss boarding school at the age of 11, Molina returned to Mexico to study the chemical engineering program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico before earning a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972.
A year later, while working with F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California at Irvine, Molina discovered that CFCs in the upper atmosphere could be broken down by ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms, which destroy ozone molecules. Their findings were published in the journal Nature in 1974.
Their findings were denounced by industries that rely on CFCs, with one company executive alleging the pair theory was “orchestrated by the KGB’s disinformation ministry”. But in 1985, British researchers discovered a huge hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.
This discovery led governments around the world to come together in the 1980s and sign a treaty called the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of substances harmful to the ozone layer. Science magazine called the agreement “the most successful international effort to combat climate change and environmental degradation”.
For their work, Molina and Rowland shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Paul J. Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Announcing the award, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the researchers “contributed to our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences”.
In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Molina the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Molina died of a heart attack in 2020 at the age of 77.