Today, we know that CFCs threaten the earth by destroying the ozone hole. For this knowledge, we must thank James Lovelock, who first detected that CFCs were being released into the atmosphere.
Contributions to Science
James Lovelock initially worked as a consultant for NASA, the American agency for space exploration. He designed many instruments that were used on the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions to Mars in 1976. One of these instruments was the electron capture detector (ECD), which he invented way back in 1957.
The ECD is used to detect very tiny amounts of any substance in the atmosphere. In the late 1960s, he discovered that concentrations of CFCs were very high. For example, one of them, CFC-11, was present in a concentration of 60 parts per million over Ireland. In 1972, he went on an expedition, measuring CFCs from the Arctic to the Antarctic. He collected 50 samples throughout his journey, and found CFCs in all of them. This data was later used by Frank Rowland and Mario Molino to prove that CFCs in the atmosphere led to ozone depletion.
Later on, Lovelock became interested in how the earth’satmosphere and temperature are regulated. Based on his studies, he suggested that the earth functions like a giant living organism. According to him, just as a living body can regulate its balance of chemicals, the living organisms on the earth help regulate its balance. For example, the earth naturally maintains a balance by absorbing CO2 and emitting O2. This is called the Gaia Hypothesis.
James Lovelock invented the ECD, which is used to detect very tiny amounts of any substance in the atmosphere.
Lovelock was born in Hertfordshire, England in 1919. He attended Strand School in London, and then went on to study chemistry at the University of Manchester. He obtained his Ph.D. at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He has worked throughout his life as an independent scientist, and was a consultant to NASA from 1961. He has been an active proponent of using science to help save the environment. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, and was awarded the prestigious A.H. Heineken Prize for the Environment in 1990.