Nobel winner for ozone research to give annual environmental lecture

F. Sherwood “Sherry” Rowland, who shared a 1995 Nobel Prize for his ozone-layer research, discusses his work in atmospheric chemistry and environmental advocacy in a Bates College event at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, in the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, 70 Campus Ave.

Rowland’s talk is titled Our Changing Atmosphere: (1) The Ozone Hole (2) Carbon Dioxide. The annual Edmund S. Muskie Environmental Lecture at Bates is open to the public at no cost. For more information, please contact 207-786-6272.

A professor at the University of California, Irvine, Rowland shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen for their determination that some human-made gases in the atmosphere react to solar radiation by releasing chlorine and chlorine compounds that can destroy ozone. The Earth’s ozone layer protects life on the planet from certain harmful wavelengths of sunlight.

Specializing in radiochemistry early in his career, Rowland began investigating the ozone layer in 1973 after hearing a lecture about a chemical called trichloromonofluoromethane. This industrial chlorofluorocarbon was considered an excellent tracer for air-mass movements because of its persistence in the atmosphere.

But the exact nature of its longevity piqued Rowland’s curiosity and inspired a new direction for his research. With a team of postdoctoral and graduate-student research associates and technical specialists, Rowland began a study of atmospheric chemistry that continues today.

Rowland realized early on that the ozone issue “was not just a scientific question, challenging and interesting to us, but a potentially grave environmental problem involving substantial depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer,” he wrote in an autobiographical sketch that appears on the Nobel Prize Web site.

First published in Nature magazine in 1974, Rowland’s work initiated a wider scientific investigation that led to the 1978 U.S. ban on CFC-based aerosols and, 11 years later, to the Montreal Protocol, designed to phase out ozone-depleting substances worldwide.

Rowland has won numerous awards for his research, including the Tyler Prize, the Japan Prize in Environment and Energy, the American Chemical Society’s Peter Debye Award and the American Geophysical Union’s Roger Revelle Medal.

The Physical Sciences Building at UC-Irvine, which held his laboratories for many years, was renamed Rowland Hall in his honor in 1995.

The annual Muskie Environmental Lecture honors 1936 Bates graduate Edmund S. Muskie, a former Maine governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state. During his 22 years in the Senate, Muskie sponsored pieces of landmark legislation to protect the environment, including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

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