|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
Orange County Register 12-08-04
Science stars cluster at UCI
On a stage where many have bowed in gratitude, UC Irvine's Irwin Rose will receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry Friday as applause thunders from the rafters of Sweden's Stockholm Concert Hall.
It is likely to be a surreal moment for the 78-year-old Rose, a humble biochemist being honored for helping discover how the human body disposes of proteins after it performs the tasks necessary to sustain life.
The moment also will reflect glory on UCI, a campus barely half Rose's age. UCI has won three Nobel Prizes in the past nine years. Two have been awarded in chemistry, where Irvine is pre-eminent.
UCI chemists discovered a threat to Earth's protective ozone layer, helped outline the potential course of climate change, clarified the nature of air pollution, explained the inner workings of cells and created molecules that might lead to therapeutic drugs.
Today, we introduce you to six of those scholars and to a relative youngster who is expected to join the university's pantheon of chemists.
F. SHERWOOD ROWLAND, 77
Thirty years ago, Rowland and his postdoctoral student Mario Molina discovered that a common class of chemicals poses a threat to the ozone layer, the thin band in the upper atmosphere that helps shield humans from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, trigger a chain reaction that destroys ozone. At the time, CFCs were broadly used in aerosol spray products and as refrigerants.
The United States banned the use of CFCs in aerosols in 1978. But the chemicals remained a global environmental issue that intensified in 1985 with the discovery of a seasonal hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic. Concern about CFCs and related chemicals led to the passage of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty meant to cut the production and use of ozone-depleting substances.
Rowland and Molina's work and that of Dutch researcher Paul Crutzen led to all three men being named winners of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Rowland is still an influential voice worldwide on climate change.
RALPH CICERONE, 61
Cicerone, UCI's chancellor, helped confirm that CFCs can destroy stratospheric ozone. His contributions were considered to be so important that the Nobel Prize committee acknowledged his work when it gave Rowland, Molina and Crutzen the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995.
Cicerone also has worked in other areas of atmospheric chemistry, helping to identify the role nitrous oxide and methane can play in climate change and global warming. In the 1990s, he conducted research while establishing UCI's department of earth system sciences, which is ranked among the 20 best in the world. Cicerone also is one of the few heads of a major research university who runs his own laboratory.
His duties will change next summer. Cicerone is the sole nominee to become the next president of the National Academy of Sciences.
LARRY OVERMAN, 61
Overman is known as the "maestro of molecules" because of his gift for building unique molecules and perfectly duplicating existing ones. The chief goal: new chemical means to help the pharmaceutical industry discover and produce drugs, especially those that fight cancer. Overman also is well-known for cultivating talented young researchers, such as Curtis Campbell, who helped Chevron develop the fuel additive Techron. Overman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1 996. He also received the 2003 Arthur C. Cope Award, the highest honor the American Chemical Society bestows in organic chemistry.
MASAYASU NOMURA, 77
Nomura is a pioneer in the study of ribosomes, molecular "machines" that help make life possible. Ribosomes produce the proteins that give form and function to cells and other parts of the body. Nomura helped figure out how ribosomes work and how they’re assembled. His studies also have been useful in explaining how antibiotics such as streptomycin fight bacteria and how cells regulate their growth – a main thrust of cancer research. Nomura was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, which also gave him a medal for bridging the worlds of chemistry and biology.
DONALD BLAKE, 51
Blake is a world leader in finding, identifying and measuring atmospheric gases and chemicals involved in climate change and air pollution. He and Rowland discovered that leaking propane tanks cause most of the smog in Mexico City. Blake also found that liquefied petroleum gas is a major source of pollution in Santiago, Chile. More recently, Blake has been examining the flow of pollution out of China’s largest cities. The Blake laboratory is an international operation, taking samples from the world’s poles to the open ocean to urban areas. The measurements have led to scores of scientific papers. During the past decade, Blake has ranked third internationally in having those papers cited by other researchers.
BARBARA FINLAYSON-PITTS, 56
In her lab, Finlayson-Pitts replicates the atmosphere, allowing her to study the nature and speed of chemical reactions. She has paid special attention to how particles such as sea salts interact with certain gases released by power plants and whether the mixing affects air quality. The studies have been used to refine computer models that forecast air pollution and climate change. The National Science Foundation recently chose Finlayson-Pitts to direct the nation’s seventh Environmental Molecular Science Institute, which is being established at UCI.
GREGORY WEISS, 34
Weiss is a chemist recruited from biotech giant Genentech because of his potential to become a top virus fighter. Working with other UCI scientists, he recently found a possible way to battle Nef, an HIV protein that speeds the development of AIDS. He is now collaborating with UCI scientists to produce a better smallpox vaccine. Weiss also is preparing to expand into stem-cell research to look for ways to chemically coax the cells to grow into healthy tissue and organs. He has been supported, in part, by the Beckman Foundation, which named him a Beckman Young Investigator.
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