Number 245 (Story #1), October 18, 1995 by Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein|
THE 1996 NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY goes to Mario Molina of MIT, T. Sherwood Rowland of UC Irvine, and Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany for their work on the ozone depletion problem. Ozone molecules high in the stratosphere help protect living organisms from the hazardous effects of solar ultraviolet radiation. Unfortunately, in recent decades the maintenance of ozone in the atmosphere has been partially disrupted by a complex series of chemical reactions arising from anthropogenic compounds, especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used as refrigerants. The seasonal lowering of ozone densities is particularly prominent over Antarctica. In a way this year's chemistry prize is the first Nobel to recognize environmental research. Crutzen did early work (1970) on the role of nitrogen oxides in reducing ozone. Molina's and Rowland's research showed that CFCs were not as inert as had been thought and that they posed a threat to ozone. Their work, conducted in the face of great skepticism by some scientists and at a time before the famous Antarctic "ozone hole" had been discovered (1985), led to the establishment of restrictions on CFC usage.