F. Sherwood Rowland dies

F. Sherwood RowlandF. Sherwood Rowland

The distinguished atmospheric and environmental chemist F. Sherwood Rowland died on March 10, 2012, at the age of 84, according to the obituary in the Los Angeles Times (March 12, 2012). Born in Delaware, Ohio, on June 28, 1927, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where — after a brief stint serving in the United States Navy — he received degrees in chemistry, physics, and mathematics in 1948. He then received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1952. He taught at Princeton University and the University of Kansas before moving in 1964 to the University of California, Irvine, where he was the first chair of the Department of Chemistry and where he spent the remainder of his career. Among his honors were election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978, presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1993, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1983, the Japan Prize in 1989, and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen) in 1995. The Nobel Prize citation was for "their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone," and Molina and Rowland's 1974 paper "Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: Chlorine atom-catalysed destruction of ozone" (Nature 249; 810-812) is often credited with initiating scientific research on ozone depletion.

The Telegraph (March 12, 2012) observed, "His work on ozone depletion made Mr Rowland a prominent voice for scientists concerned about global warming. 'Isn't it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn't it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?' Mr Rowland said at a White House climate change round-table in 1997." Reviewing the state of the art on stratospheric ozone depletion in a paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (2006; 361: 769-790), he wrote, "The present understanding of stratospheric chemistry has made great forward strides in the past three decades. Furthermore, the extensive atmospheric monitoring programmes, which have now been instituted around the world will continue to provide experimental tests and verification of the validity of our current understanding. The citation accompanying the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry used the phrase 'our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences' in its description of the scientific endeavours to that date concerning stratospheric ozone depletion. The succeeding decade seems to have generally provided confirmatory data without big surprises on the ozone front, but the greenhouse effect, global warming and abrupt climate change are presenting much more forbidding scientific, economic and political challenges."