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Medal Of Freedom Goes To A Chemist

Honors: Nation’s highest civilian award goes to Mario Molina for climate science work

by Andrea Widener
August 15, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 33

Credit: Newscom
Mario Molina
Credit: Newscom

Chemist Mario J. Molina, who helped elucidate the role of chlorofluorocarbon gases in the destruction of Earth’s protective ozone layer and has advocated for climate-change research ever since, has been selected to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Molina shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with fellow chemists Paul J. Crutzen and the late F. Sherwood Rowland for their work on the ozone layer.

The Medal of Freedom puts the University of California, San Diego, professor of chemistry and biochemistry outside his usual scientific crowd. His 15 fellow awardees this year include media mogul Oprah Winfrey, country singer Loretta Lynn, and former president Bill Clinton.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” President Barack Obama said in announcing the awards. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world.”

Born in Mexico, Molina has been active talking about and doing research related to global climate change. “I am thrilled because the recognition is not only due to my work as a scientist, but it also involves my work addressing societal problems,” he says. “It is a powerful incentive to continue with this work.”

Molina says he is particularly honored to receive the award from Obama because he has worked with him for several years now as a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology. He also served on PCAST for Clinton.

In addition to his position at UCSD, Molina is director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy & Environment in Mexico City. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

“Molina demonstrated how an immigrant to the United States could make Nobel Prize-stature contributions to science,” says Marinda Li Wu, president of the American Chemical Society, where Molina has been a member for 42 years. “He later helped to raise awareness about global climate change among news media, the public, and policymakers.”

Molina will receive his medal later this year at a White House ceremony.



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