Paul J. Crutzen
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1995
Born: 3 December 1933, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Died: 28 January 2021, Mainz, Germany
Affiliation at the time of the award: Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie, Mainz, Germany
Prize motivation: “for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone”
Prize share: 1/3
Paul Crutzen was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he studied to become an engineer and later worked at the city’s Bridge Construction Bureau. Together with his new Finnish wife, Terttu Soinonen, Crutzen moved to Gävle, Sweden, in 1958. After finding work as a computer programmer at the Department of Meteorology at Stockholm University, he also began studying there. He also conducted his Nobel Prize-awarded research at the department. Crutzen has also worked at institutions in the US, Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria.
The atmosphere around our earth contains small amounts of ozone; molecules made from three oxygen atoms. Ozone has played a major role in absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which would otherwise negatively impact life on earth. In 1970, Crutzen demonstrated that nitric oxide accelerates a chemical reaction in which ozone is transformed into regular oxygen (containing two oxygen atoms). In later work, Crutzen contributed a theory that an increased thinning of the ozone layer at the poles could be explained by the emission of industrial gases.