SAD NEWS: THE PASSING OF MARIO MOLINA THE ONLY MEXICAN SCIENTIST WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE
Mario Molina was born in Mexico City in 1943. He studied chemistry at Mexico’s National University (UNAM), where he obtained a B.Sc. degree in chemical engineering, and then he joined the Faculty in UNAM’s School of Chemistry in 1967 and 1968. His graduate education took him to Freiburg, Germany, and he then obtained his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 1972. Dr. Molina took a postdoc position in Prof. Frank Sherwood Rowland’s lab in 1973, and in 1974 they published their landmark paper in Nature, where they brought to light the problem of the thinning of the ozone layer resulting from the use of CFCs. Their work, together with that of Prof. Paul Crutzen, led them to be awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Furthermore, Dr. Molina contributed to the drafting of a momentous international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, which led to the regulation and phasing of out of the use of CFCs.
Mario Molina maintained a long, and close connection with the academic world of the US in general, as a Professor at MIT between 1989 and 2004, and in California in particular, as he served as faculty at UC Irvine, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology and, until his death, with the SCRPSS’s Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. In 2008 he was appointed as Scientific Adviser to President Obama. While he remained associated with SCRPSS, he moved back to his natal Mexico City and founded the Centro Mario Molina, where he led work to address the problem of pollution in metropolis, particularly Mexico City, and promoted global action for a wiser use and conservation of the planet’s life supporting systems.
I had the enormous privilege of sharing a recognition of Pew Scholars in Ecology and the Environment with him, where we overlapped for almost two years. We maintained a professional interaction until recently, as we shared an interest on promoting science education for the youth, and we participated in several events and fora addressing that critical issue. Those interactions gave me an unforgettable opportunity to not only witness his remarkable dedication to the cultivation of the scientific enterprise and its use for the betterment of humankind, but his outstanding bonhomie and humble character, remarkable in a person of his scientific stature.
Ironically, as we celebrate the wonderful news that two women scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and UC Berkely’s Jennifer Doudna—the latter a faculty in Molina’s PhD Alma Mater—are the 2020 Nobel Laurates in chemistry, that same day we learned the unexpected news of Dr. Molina’s death, on October 7thin Mexico City. His tireless work will remain as an example of the significance of science for human wellbeing, and a source of inspiration for present and future generations of scientists in general, and environmental scientists in particular.