The ozone layer, as you may know, is a layer of naturally occurring and man-made gas that blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth’s atmosphere. If it wasn’t for Mexican chemist Mario J. Molina, we may not have realized that we were actually causing harm to the very thing that was protecting us.
It was in the mid-1970s when Molina decided to study the molecules in the ozone layer. He was shocked to find out we have been damaging it all along with CFCs, which are industrial chemicals that used to be present in spray cans and refrigerants.
Born in 1943, Molina grew up wanting to be a chemist. He converted the bathroom in his family’s old house into a lab where he could use his chemistry set and conduct experiments. At age 11, he moved from Mexico to a boarding school in Switzerland to pursue his passion. He was disappointed that his friends were not as keen as him on the subject of chemistry.
After studying in Switzerland, Molina moved back to Mexico, then to Germany, until he finally ended up in a graduate program in the United States. There, he joined his colleague Sherwood Rowland in a research project about atmospheric chemistry to focus on learning more about how CFC gasses affect the environment.
“I remember that I was dismayed by the fact that high-power chemical lasers were being developed elsewhere as weapons; I wanted to be involved with research that was useful to society, but not for potentially harmful purposes,” Molina said.
After his work was published, new policies on the use of CFCs were implemented around the world. Spreading awareness was critical in drastically slowing down the depletion of the ozone layer.
Mario J. Molina died in 2020 leaving behind a son and a wife, but his legacy will live on.
Current State of the Ozone Layer