“When the world gets together, we really can solve environmental problems.”
Occupation: Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Areas of Interest: Atmospheric chemistry.
Known For: Discovering the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.
Childhood and Education
Susan Solomon’s interest in science did not start until she was nine years old, when she began watching some TV documentaries and became particularly enthralled with biology . As she progressed through her education, Susan quite liked maths and began to realise that biology may not be the subject for her, as she was looking for something more quantitative . Whilst at secondary school, she entered a national science competition and finished in the top three after she successfully conducted a chemical experiment . It was this that swayed her to study for a bachelor’s in chemistry at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which she successfully obtained in 1977 . Susan decided that she wanted to go into the field of atmospheric chemistry after a brief spell at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, where she was introduced to ozone studies . Subsequently, she progressed to receive a PhD in atmospheric chemistry at the University of California in 1981 .
Following her PhD, Solomon joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where she remained until 2011 . Susan began life at NOAA as a research scientist, looking into upper atmospheric ozone . It was in 1985 that scientists from the British Antarctic Survey first reported the Antarctic ozone hole, but the cause was unknown. Mario Molina had previously hypothesised that UV radiation breaks up CFC molecules, releasing chlorine atoms which react with and destroy ozone . Susan proposed that polar stratospheric clouds in the Antarctic were acting like a magnet for CFCs, on which the process described by Molina could take place . In order to verify her theory, Solomon led an expedition to Antarctica in 1986/87, where she was the only female in the team . They took measurements of chlorine dioxide (much higher than anticipated) and other atmospheric chemicals, later leading to Susan’s Antarctic ozone depletion hypothesis being confirmed . Throughout the remainder of her time at NOAA, Susan went on to research Arctic ozone levels as well as the impact of volcanic eruptions on accelerating ozone depletion . She left NOAA in 2011 and joined the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science .
Awards and Achievements
- Solomon is widely seen as an inspirational role model for women in science. This is not only through her scientific achievements and discoveries, but through her mentoring of young female scientists in her NOAA research group and her time spent mentoring students and advising them on matters relating to careers in science.
- Co-chair of Working Group 1 for the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change .
- Inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009 .
- Received over 15 national and international awards including the Arthur L Day Prize by the National Academy of Sciences in 2017.
- Has authored two books in 2002 and 2005 .
- Solomon’s discovery of the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole has led many countries to reduce their usage of CFCs.
- The ‘Solomon Glacier’ in Antarctica is named after Susan for her scientific achievements.
Just before joining MIT, Susan talks about her research interests, working with students, and climate change (6mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx3BCP7fmtM
Scientific Papers and Publications
Solomon, S., Portmann, R. W. and Thompson, D. W. J., Contrasts Between Antarctic and Arctic Ozone Depletion, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2006: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/2/445.full.pdf
Solomon, S., Daniel, J. S., Sanford, T. J., Murphy, D. M., Plattner, G., Knutti, R. and Friedlingstein, P., Persistence of Climate Changes due to a Range of Greenhouse Gases, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/43/18354.full.pdf