Prof. Dr. Mario J. Molina
Chemical Scientist, Nobel prize for Chemistry 1995, Professor of Chemistry at the University of California in San Diego and the Center of Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
DAAD Scholarship 1965–1966
Even as a child, Mario Molina was fascinated by chemistry, so he transformed the bathroom into a lab. Born in Mexico City in 1943, he was sent to a Swiss school at the age of 11 to learn German. That is when he decided to become a chemical scientist. This marked the beginning of an outstanding career. It was as early as 1973 that he discovered the threat which air pollutants, like CFCs, pose for the sensitive ozone layer. 22 years later, he, along with Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen, won the Nobel prize in Chemistry for this work.
I wanted to do research that is useful for society.
Just a year after making their discovery, Molina and Rowland, assisted by the media, brought the problem to the public’s attention and initially drew fierce criticism from industry. However, by 1985 at the latest, as the first ozone hole became visible over the Antarctic, the research chemists’ work had to be acknowledged. The production of CFCs was banned. “A remarkable aspect of my work was the good cooperation with an outstanding group of physicists.”
After studying chemistry in his home town of Mexico City, he went to study at the University of Freiburg on a DAAD Scholarship. In order to put his knowledge on a broader foundation and to open up new areas of research in the field of physical chemistry, he endeavoured to gain admission to a graduate programme in the United States. He finally succeeded in 1968 with admission to the University of California, Berkeley. There, he noted the pioneering spirit and benefited from an intellectually stimulating climate. “My years at Berkeley count among the best in my life.” It was there that he met his close co-worker and later wife Luisa Tan. Shortly afterwards, he moved to the University of Irvine in California. He and Sherwood Rowland jointly developed the decisive theory on ozone. Mario Molina left the university in 1982 because the time-intensive teaching schedule allowed him too little time for his research.
Seven years later, he returned to academic life, teaching and researching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since 2004 Molina has been working in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry at the UCSD (University of California, San Diego) and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He currently commutes between San Diego and his birthplace Mexico City, where he has founded a Center for Energy and the Environment. At the Mario Molina Center, researchers are looking for practical solutions to energy and environmental problems. One aim is to improve the quality of the air in the city; another is to throw light on climate change.