Office of the Chancellor

Passing of Mario Molina

Oct. 8, 2020

I am sorry to announce the passing of Mario J. Molina, Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at our sister campus UC San Diego. Dr. Molina and his mentor, UCI Professor F. Sherwood Rowland, shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their investigation of the effects of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, on the ozone layer. The citation accompanying their award, UCI’s first Nobel Prize, stated they “may well have saved the world.”

Dr. Molina, a native of Mexico, received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1972, then joined Professor Rowland’s laboratory in the Department of Chemistry, School of Physical Sciences, as a postdoctoral scholar, studying what happened to CFCs, apparently harmless gases that were widely used in refrigerants, aerosol sprays, and the making of plastic foams, when they rose into the upper atmosphere and decomposed. Together they developed the CFC ozone depletion theory, predicting that chlorine atoms produced by this decomposition of CFCs would act as an ongoing catalyst for the destruction of ozone. Rowland and Molina published their findings in 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.

Professor Molina variously held research and teaching posts at UCI, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, and MIT until 2004, when he joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Proud of his heritage, he opened the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment in Mexico City in 2005, serving as its first director, and was a member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native American Scientists. Among his many honors, he was a member of the United States President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under President Obama and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Through his pioneering scholarship, Dr. Molina played a large role in UCI’s development as a world leader in earth sciences and atmospheric chemistry. The world has lost a brilliant scientist, but his legacy is still strongly present in our community.