Nobel Prize winner at Tech

By Greg Keisel
Campus Life Staff

Professor Paul Crutzen has won this years Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The prize was awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his contributions to atmospheric chemistry.

He shares this honor (and the $1 million award) with Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland. Dr. Crutzen's work has focused on atmospheric modeling. According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, he is currently the "world's leading researcher in mapping the chemical mechanisms that determine the ozone content at these levels."

He has modeled the causes of the twin dangers of too much ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and too little ozone in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) each raises the earth's temperature. In 1970 he worked for CIAP, the Department of Transportation's program to evaluate the effect of supersonic aircrafts on the atmosphere. His results showed that the nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere from the soil by bacteria decomposes into niric acid, which in turn reacts with ozone to create nitrous oxide and oxygen.

He was the first to show that actions on the surface greatly effected the stratosphere (where the ozone layer is located). He also showed that the SST fleet would dump dangerous levels of nitrogen oxides into the ozone layer.

The SST fleet was later cancelled because of noise and traffic. It was then that Dr. Crutzen discovered that chlorine compounds (such as CFCs) and other chemicals could also destroy ozone.

Crutzen was also involved in identifying the cause of the ozone hole in Antarcticadue to chemical reactions occuring at low temperatures on the surface of clouds in the stratosophere. This work has created a new branch of atmospheric chemistry, "heterogenous" chemical reactions on particle surfaces. Due in part to Crutzen's work, the United Nations has agreed to eliminate the most dangerous gases by 1996.

While conditions will continue to worsen for Antartica and parts of the Northern Atmosphere, the ozone layer should begin to heal after the turn of the century.

However, it may take over a century before the ozone layer has completely recovered.

His calculations have also shown that climate is dependent of ozone in the troposphere. Ozone in the troposhere contributes to the greenhouse effect.

The level of ozone in the troposphere has increased this century from the industrial release of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, and gaseous hydrocarbons. Other factors include the burning of forests in the tropics and the adding of nitrogen to the soil for fertilizer.

Currently, Dr. Crutzen is working with Mark Lorentz, a Tech student, on the chemistry of the troposphere, the effects of sulfer and other chemicals on the ozone levels. Dr. Douglas Davis, who haa known Dr. Crutzen since their work in the 70s at Boulder, Colorado, described him as being "very family oriented, pleasant... a very simple oriented person".

Paul Crutzen was born in 1933 in Amsterdam, and is currently a Dutch citizen. He has a Doctorate in Meterology from the University of Stockholm, and a degree for his work on the SST fleet and the ozone layer.

He is married, and has two children. He is a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and Academia Europea.

He is the Director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division of the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

He has been an Adjunct Professor at Tech since the early 80s, and continues to compare notes with the Earth and Atmospheric Science Department.


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Copyright © 1995 by Stephanie L. Goff, Editor and by the Student Publications Board