Web Date: March 13, 2012
Chemistry Nobel Laureate F. Sherwood Rowland Dies
F. Sherwood 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, Joan, to whom he had been married for nearly 60 years, and his son, Jeff, 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 Finlayson-Pitts. “He was a scientist of enormous integrity, who really did change our world for the better.”
Finlayson-Pitts also paid tribute to Rowland’s kindness as a person: “He had time for everybody,” she says. “It didn’t matter if you were lowest on the totem pole; he always had time for you.”
Known affectionately as Sherry to his friends and colleagues, Rowland shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with his former student Mario Molina and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. They demonstrated the extraordinary ability of chlorine atoms—unleashed into the atmosphere by chlorofluorocarbons in products such as hair sprays and industrial solvents—to break up 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, Joan, 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.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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