F. Sherwood Rowland Dies | March 19, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 12 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 12 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 19, 2012

F. Sherwood Rowland Dies

Obituary: Chemistry Nobel Laureate showed that some chlorofluorocarbons can destroy Earth’s ozone layer
Department: ACS News
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: Nobel Prize, atmospheric chemistry, ozone layer, chlorofluorocarbons, obituaries
Rowland in 2007 at UC Irvine.
Credit: William J. Cooper/UC Irvine
F. Sherwood Rowland
Rowland in 2007 at UC Irvine.
Credit: William J. Cooper/UC Irvine

Frank Sherwood (Sherry) Rowland, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist who helped alert the world to the destructive effects of chlorofluorocarbons in Earth’s ozone layer, died on March 10 at his home in Corona del Mar, Calif. He was 84.

According to a University of California, Irvine, statement, Rowland died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. His wife of nearly 60 years, Joan, and his son, Jeffrey, were with him. Rowland had been a professor of chemistry at UC Irvine since 1964.

Rowland “was a giant of a man, both professionally and personally,” says former colleague and UC Irvine atmospheric chemistry professor Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts. “He was a scientist of enormous integrity, who really did change our world for the better.”

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, president of the American Chemical Society, adds, “Sherry Rowland will live on as a compelling reminder that individual scientists must speak out with courage and persistence when they think it is important for society to change.”

Finlayson-Pitts also paid tribute to Rowland’s kindness as a person: “It didn’t matter if you were lowest on the totem pole,” she says. “He always had time for you.”

Rowland shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with his former student Mario J. Molina and atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen. They demonstrated the extraordinary ability of chlorine atoms—unleashed into the atmosphere by CFCs in products such as hair sprays and industrial solvents—to destroy protective stratospheric ozone molecules.

Their discoveries, which began in the 1970s, ultimately led to worldwide changes in industrial practices, governmental atmospheric policies, and searches for alternative compounds to replace CFCs. After other scientists documented a seasonal hole in the protective ozone layer over Antarctica, the groundbreaking 1987 Montreal protocol, an international treaty to phase out the use of ozone-destroying compounds, was drafted.

The work of Rowland and his colleagues faced fierce opposition—in large part from industry—especially during the first years after it was published. Finlayson-Pitts credits Rowland’s strong partnership with his wife in helping him weather periods of tough criticism.

In addition to his wife and son, Rowland is survived by his daughter, Ingrid, and two grandchildren.

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Henry Oviatt, Ph.D. (March 19, 2012 12:35 PM)
Sherry Rowland was a really great person. I had him for physical chemistry at UCI, and had many a hallway conversation with him. He will be missed.

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