UC Irvine’s Department of Chemistry drew a packed audience into HIB 100 on Thursday, April 12 during the Celebration of Excellence, an event recognizing the chemistry department’s acquisition of the Breakthrough Award. In 2006, the American Chemistry Society presented this award to the 10 institutions that bred the 10 most significant scientific discoveries in the 20th century.
UCI’s Department of Chemistry was honored for its role in the research of two professors: Donald Bren Professor Frank Sherwood Rowland and Professor Mario Molina, both of whom published groundbreaking research together proving chlorofluorocarbons deplete Earth’s ozone layer in a 1974 issue of ‘Nature.’ The centerpiece of the event was a panel discussion titled ‘The Health of the Atmosphere.’ The panelists were Rowland, Molina and Ralph Cicerone, chancellor emeritus of UCI and president of the National Academy of the Sciences.
Chancellor Michael Drake began the ceremony with a brief introduction, which was followed by a video message from former Vice President Al Gore. Gore addressed Rowland and Molina by name, calling them his friends and lauding the university for its accomplishments. ‘The University of California, Irvine is so deserving,’ Gore said.
A representative from the American Chemical Society later presented the UCI Department of Chemistry with a plaque acknowledging its accomplishment, bringing the audience to its feet in applause. Chemistry Chair Vartkess Apkarian accepted the award graciously, saying, ‘Sherwood was not only the Nobel Laureate but he was also the founding chairman of the department. So I would like to pass on the award directly to Sherwood and I would like him to receive it.’
During the panel discussion, the audience members asked questions ranging from the role of trash in global warming to the experiences of Rowland and Molina when they published their award-winning work in 1974. One gentleman in the audience asked why pollutant-spitting vehicles are still our main mode of transportation despite all the recent advances in technology.
Molina explained that the relatively cheap price of fuel in the United States is to blame. ‘You can reverse that by increasing the price of fuel … slowly and cleverly’ Molina said.
A major topic of discussion was international cooperation as it pertains to the enforcement of nature-friendly regulations. How would developing nations avoid following the destructive precedent of the United States as it became an industrial nation?
‘Historically,’ Cicerone said, ‘energy usage is very closely linked to allowing the economy to develop. … On the other hand, if you look at California, [its] electricity usage leveled off 20 or 25 years ago. And by any measure, California’s economy has tripled with a flat per capita energy usage.’ Cicerone continued by pushing for the idea that industrially developed nations ought to meet with less developed countries to make sure they are able to grow in environmentally friendly ways.
The panel discussion was followed by an animated reception in HIB 135, where many of the audience members greeted one another.
Fourth-year graduate student Maggie Walser said, ‘I think it went really well. This was a big honor for our department … and the audience seemed to respond well to what they had to say.’
Cicerone was also pleased with the success of the event. ‘You never know how important some of this work that students and professors are doing everyday can be until you see something like this.’