Pioneer American Atmospheric Chemist
Debananda S. Ningthoujam, PhD
The eminent scientist in today’s column pursues her relentless scientific quest and endless questions among the clouds up in the stratosphere. She is one of the pioneers who solved the riddle of the Antarctic ozone hole. She along with her collaborators was also responsible for ushering policies to regulate the release of ozone depleting substances into the atmosphere.
The world owes a deep sense of gratitude to her and other pioneering atmospheric scientists for having made a difference for humankind.
Besides pathbreaking contributions in scientific research, this scientist has also taken active roles in administration, public policy, and mentoring.
Who is this trailblazing scientist?
Susan was born on January 19, 1956 in Chicago. Her father, Leonard Solomon, was an insurance agent. Her mother was a homemaker.
Solomon’s passion in science was kindled as a child by watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
In high school, she won third place in a national science fair. Her project was about how to measure percentage of oxygen in a gas mixture.
Susan earned a BS degree in chemistry from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1977. She then enrolled in the PhD program in the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). She received her PhD degree in atmospheric chemistry in 1981.
After earning her PhD, Solomon joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a junior scientist. She became Head of the Chemistry & Climate processes Group at NOAA and remained there till 2011.
In 2011, Solomon joined the faculty of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. She is currently Ellen Swallow Richards Professor at MIT.
Solomon made many outstanding contributions in the areas of atmospheric chemistry and climate change.
Solomon was part of the team that first proposed the theory that the Antarctic ozone hole was created by reaction of ozone and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the surface of ice particles in high altitude clouds that form over Antarctica.
During 1986 and 1987, she led the National Ozone Expedition to McMurdo Sound, where the team confirmed the ozone depleting reactions. They found levels of chlorine oxide 100 times higher than expected in the atmosphere, possibly caused by breakdown of CFCs due to UV radiation.
Susan also showed that volcanoes could accelerate the reactions caused by CFCs and increase the damage to the ozone layer. Her pioneering work was the basis of the UN Montreal Protocol, an international treaty for protecting the ozone layer by regulating the release of ozone depleting chemicals.
Solomon also served as a contributing author for the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She was Co-Chair of the Working group for the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.
Solomon married Barry Sidwell in 1988.
Solomon has also published some books including The Coldest March (2002) and Aeronomy of the Middle Atmosphere (2005).
Awards and honours
Dr Solomon won many awards and honours for her outstanding accomplishments in atmospheric chemistry.
Solomon received the Betlesen Prize in 2013. She got the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in 2012.
The earlier awards she received include Service to America Medal (2010), Volvo Prize (2009), Grande Medaille (2008), William Bowie Medal (2007), Blue Planet Prize (2004), and Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal (2000).
The Earliest accolade she won was Henry Houghton Award from the American Meteorological Society.
Halls of Fame Inclusion
Solomon was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Solomon received the National Medal of Science-the highest civilian science prize given by the US government-in 1999.
Memberships of professional Societies
Solomon is a fellow of the Royal Society, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Geochemical Society, USA etc.
Solomon has received honorary degrees from several universities in- cluding Leeds, Reading, and Northwestern Universities.
Susan is on the editorial boards of several journals including Planetary and Space Science, Journal of Environmental Monitoring, and The WMO Bulletin.
Her hobbies include fishing, hiking, reading, and writing exploration history etc.
“My discovery really increases the importance of understanding good choices about how much carbon dioxide we want to put into the atmosphere, because we need to understand that what we are doing cannot be easily undone”, so says Dr Susan Solomon, about the alarming rate at which greenhouse gases are being pumped into the global atmosphere through anthropogenic activities.
An Antarctic glacier has been named in her honour as Solomon Glacier and her name is also associated with a snow saddle.
Susan Solomon’s wonderful life and career will inspire several generations of aspiring young scientists.