Susan Solomon

    March, 2006:

    Susan Solomon, a Chicago native widely recognized as a leader in atmospheric science, is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, which she joined in 1981, upon graduation from University of California, Berkeley. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a foreign member of the French and European Academies of Sciences, a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and American Geophysical Union and she has received numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science and the Blue Planet Prize. Her honors include the Susan Solomon Glacier in Antarctica, the coldest place on earth.

    Susan grew up on Chicago's north side, in the Peterson Park neighborhood. She became interested in science, by watching the undersea adventures of Jacques Cousteau on TV, when she was less than ten years old. Susan's mother was a fourth grade teacher; her father sold insurance. Her brother is also a fourth grade teacher.

    She attended Von Steuben High School. While in high school, her science fair project to measure the amount of oxygen in gas mixtures by observing the brightness of a flame was awarded first place in the Chicago Science Fair and the third place in the international science fair. As a student of chemistry at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the late 1970s, she became intrigued with the thought that chemistry could be explored on a planet instead of in the test tube. She was graduated from IIT, where work occurred on chemistry related to the atmosphere of Jupiter. She went on to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in atmospheric chemistry, this time on the heavily populated earth.

    Susan is known for her outstanding research as the head project scientist on the identification of the causes of changes in the ozone layer on the emergency expedition to Antarctica in 1986. The research team was sixteen scientists from four institutions. This two-month expedition made the first measurements that pointed towards chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the ozone hole. Susan's insight and leadership enabled the team to detect high levels of chlorine dioxide in the stratosphere, resulting from heterogeneous reactions on polar stratospheric clouds. Susan took measurements at -40°C and 65 kilometer per hour winds. She spent several months analyzing the data. Her scientific papers provided not only key measurements, but also theoretical understanding about ozone destruction. These studies were key among the pieces of evidence, which convinced most scientists of the CFC-catalyzed ozone destruction and help to assess the risks posed by ozone depletion. Her convincing work was part of the information that led to global policy changes, global ban on CFC production and efforts to reduce CFC use.

    Susan attributes mentoring to have played an important role in developing her as a scientist, as an undergraduate at IIT: Professor David Gutman; in graduate school: Harold Johnson, a leading atmospheric scientist; at the National Center for Atmospheric Research: Paul Crutzen and Raymond Noble; and at the Aeronomy Laboratory: Dan Albritton, Director.

    Susan's current projects include the science working group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She co-chairs the working group that assesses scientific information that will directly impact its fourth report, expected in 2007. This report could, like those before it, influence global policy decisions. She states, " The role of science is not to make value judgments or policy. It's to inform people how things work". Her research continues to include climate change and ozone depletion.

    While working in Antarctica, Susan became fascinated with its history and geography. For 15 years she investigated the expeditions of a British explorer, Robert Scott, who died with his team in 1912. Her studies led to The Coldest March, an absorbing narrative detailing how Scott's team was fatally trapped during a freak period of frigid weather, and that Scott was neither incompetent nor misguided.

    Susan has commented to the question: If a young person asked you for advice as to how to become a successful atmospheric chemist, what would you say? "My best advice would be that to be successful in research, you have to be focused. You have to be able to think and absorb science exclusively and constantly. It is difficult for young people today; they have so many distractions. If science does not motivate you enough to make you want to focus on it, then it is probably not for you."

    To acquaint visitors about atmospheric science, Susan's work is featured at the Smithsonian Institution on the "Science in American Life" exhibit in Washington, DC. This exhibit enables children to learn about scientists and their work using a computer-driven display.


    Profiles, Susan Solomon: Chemistry in Clouds, Geotimes, August 2004, p. 50

    Blue Planet Prize, Science, 305, 2 July 2004, p. 39

    "Lofty Achievement: NOAA's Susan Solomon on Atmospheric Chemistry", Science Watch, September/October 2002, p. 3

    Profile: Susan Solomon, Global Change, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security (Oakland, California), Summer 2002, p. 16

    The Bulletin Interviews Susan Solomon, World Meteorological Organization Bulletin 50 No.1 - January 2001

    "How Susan Solomon's Research Changed our View of Earth", R&D Magazine, September 1992, p. 46

    Roan, Sharon, Ozone Crisis: the 15-Year Evolution of a Sudden Global Emergency, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1989

    Supporting Online Materials:

    NOAA Scientist Receives Prestigious Award for Work on Ozone Hole,

    Interview with Dr. Susan Solomon,

    — Written by Inara Brubaker