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UC Irvine Nobel winner F. Sherwood Rowland dies

March 11, 2012 |  4:45 pm

F. Sherwood Rowland in his lab.
F. Sherwood Rowland, the UC Irvine chemistry professor who warned the world that man-made chemicals could erode the ozone layer, has died. He was 84.

Rowland, known as Sherry, died Saturday at his home in Corona del Mar, the university announced. He had Parkinson's disease.

In 1995, Rowland was one of three people awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work explaining how chlorofluorocarbons, ubiquitous substances once used in an array of products from spray deodorant to industrial solvents, could destroy the ozone layer, the protective atmospheric blanket that screens out many of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

The prize was awarded more than two decades after Rowland warned of the problem, and challenges to his theory plagued him for many years before he won widespread recognition for his work and leaders of nations worldwide began to act to ban or reduce usage of the chemicals.

The discovery “was about more than just stratospheric ozone,” said Donald Blake, a chemistry professor at UC Irvine who worked closely with Rowland for more than two decades. “It was about the whole environment and the realization that something we can do in California could have effects somewhere else in the world. It was the start of the global era of the environment.”

Born on June 28, 1927, in Delaware, Ohio, Rowland attended college before joining the Navy.
He resumed his studies in chemistry at the University of Chicago in 1948.

As Rowland later acknowledged, his timing was superb. The university was home to Nobel Prize winner Willard F. Libby--the chemist who developed the carbon-14 dating technique and who became Rowland's mentor--and hosted such esteemed scientists as Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller.

After completing his doctorate, he took a job at Princeton University as a chemistry instructor. He later joined the faculty at the University of Kansas, but when the UC Irvine campus opened in 1965, he was lured from Kansas to become the school's inaugural chairman of the chemistry department.
A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.

-- Shari Roan and Claire Noland

Photo: F. Sherwood Rowland in his lab. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times