Two Americans and a Dutch citizen were awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for their pioneering work in explaining the chemical processes that deplete the Earth’s ozone shield.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the prize to Mario Molina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California, Irvine, and to Paul Crutzen, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Crutzen, Rowland and Molina “have contributed to our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences,” the Nobel Prize citation said.
The accolade is a vindication for the two Americans, who were attacked by industry when in 1974 they first advanced their thesis that the use of chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants, plastic foams and aerosol propellants seriously damages the ozone layer.
Unless attenuated by the ozone layer, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer, cataracts and damage to the immune system, and destroy natural ecosystems.
Although most scientists now accept the thesis, it still has influential critics outside the scientific community. Republicans in Congress, for instance, have introduced legislation to overturn U.S. participation in the international ban on the production of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.
The academy also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to two Americans for discovering subatomic particles in the group called leptons. The winners are Frederick Reines, also at UC Irvine, for his discovery in the mid-1950s of the neutrino; and Martin Perl of Stanford University, for his discovery in the mid-1970s of the tau lepton, a superheavy cousin of the electron.