University of Michigan
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May 24, 2017

Obituary: Ralph Cicerone

November 18, 2016

Obituary: Ralph Cicerone

Topic: Obituaries

Ralph Cicerone, former University of Michigan faculty member in Space Physics in the College of Engineering and recent past president of the National Academy of Sciences, died suddenly Nov. 5 at his home in New Jersey.

Cicerone graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering, later receiving master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois.

Ralph Cicerone

After receiving his Ph.D., Cicerone was hired by Professor Andrew Nagy to join his group at the U-M. “He first did theoretical and experimental research related to problems in the ionosphere, but his interest eventually turned to atmospheric chemistry and he, together with another member of the group, Dr. Richard Stolarski, published a groundbreaking and seminal paper on the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer caused by chlorine resulting from the break up Freon," said Nagy, professor emeritus of climate and space sciences and engineering.

While at the College of Engineering, he and Stolarski showed that free chlorine atoms could decompose ozone catalytically, demonstrating that man-made chemicals were destroying the planet’s ozone layer. For this work, he was recognized on the citation for the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to colleague F. Sherwood Rowland.

He held faculty positions in electrical and computer engineering at U-M, and then went on to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of Calaifornia, San Diego, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In 1989, Cicerone joined the University of California, Irvine, eventually becoming dean of physical sciences and later, chancellor.

Cicerone was also the 1999 laureate for the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science. The American Geophysical Union awarded him its 2002 Roger Revelle Medal, and the World Cultural Council honored him with the Albert Einstein World Award of Science in 2004. In 2005, he was elected president of the National Academy of Sciences, where he served until this past June.

Cicerone was a great friend to many in the Department of Climate & Space. Joyce Penner, who is the Ralph J. Cicerone Distinguished University Professor of Atmospheric Science, said she named the position to honor his influence and mentorship.

In 2010, he was invited to give the Nelson W. Spencer Lecture, and Penner remembers, “…Ralph always amazed me with his interest in science. When we invited him for the Spencer Lecture, instead of talking policy he gave an excellent summary of the science of climate change.”

— Submitted by the College of Engineering