Nobel laureate who discovered harmful impact of CFCs dies aged 77

Nobel laureate Mario Molina, who helped to discover the damaging effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were commonly used in aerosol products, has died.

The UC San Diego researcher, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for helping discover that CFCs were destroying the Earth’s ozone layer, died on 7 October at the age of 77.

According to an obituary by the Los Angeles Times, Molina’s work helped lead to the Montreal Protocol, a landmark treaty aimed at repairing damage to the atmosphere.

Kim Prather, a chemist at UCSD, said of Molina: “I have lost my hero. Mother Earth has lost one of her biggest champions. He was a true gentleman in every sense.”

In 1973, Molina took a position as a postdoctoral researcher under UC Irvine chemist F. Sherwood Rowland in what turned out to be a “remarkable pairing of scientists”, according to the LA Times. The pair began to study how CFCs - commonly used in hairsprays and cleaning products - affected the ozone layer.

They suspected that CFCs were producing a hole in the ozone layer, allowing an excessive and damaging amount of UV light to reach the Earth’s surface. Approximately nine months later, the duo published their findings in the journal Nature, which produced a backlash from chemical companies who sought to undermine their work.

Molina and Rowland persisted with their research and proved the damage caused by CFCs to the ozone layer. Their work helped lead to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty in which nearly 50 countries agreed to help curb CFCs further. Since then, about 150 countries signed the treaty, which is regarded as one of the most meaningful international agreements ever struck, according to the LA Times.

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