October 2020

Ozone researcher Mario Molina dies at 77

Mario Molina, who shared a Nobel Prize for work on chlorofluorocarbons’ effect on the ozone layer, died on Oct. 7 at his home in Mexico City. He was 77.

The cause was a heart attack, according to Lorena Gonzalez Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies on Energy and the Environment, the environmental research and policy center he founded in Mexico City in 2004.

Mario Molina

Photo of Mario Molina by the Associated Press.

Dr. Molina was a Mexico-born U.S. citizen who helped to trail blaze the climate movement, former U.S. VP Al Gore told The New York Times. Molina’s and Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland’s research led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a landmark international environmental treaty to phase out the production of the compounds. In 1995, the two men shared the Nobel Prize with Paul J. Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

José Mario Molina-Pasquel y Henríquez was born on March 19, 1943, in Mexico City to Roberto Molina Pasquel and Leonor Henríquez Molina. His father was a lawyer and judge who served as Mexican ambassador to Ethiopia, the Philippines and Australia. His mother was a homemaker. He was fascinated by science from his youngest days, and was especially guided by an aunt, Esther Molina, who was a chemist.

At age 11 he was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, and in 1960 he enrolled in the chemical engineering program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After studying in Paris and Germany, he began graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968. He received his doctorate in physical chemistry there in 1972.

In 1973, Dr. Molina joined Dr. Rowland’s laboratory group at the University of California, Irvine, where they developed their theory of ozone depletion.

He would later work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA; the University of California, San Diego; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the Molina Center in Mexico City, he focused on alleviating the city’s pollution.

In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He is survived by his wife Guadalupe Alvarez, son Felipe and step-sons Joshua, Allan and Asher Ginsburg.