Childhood & Early Life
Paul Jozef Crutzen was born on December 3, 1933, in Amsterdam. His father, Jozef Crutzen, originally from Vaal, worked as waiter in Amsterdam. His mother, Anna Gurk, was of mixed Polish and German ancestry; she came to the city from Ruhr region of Germany as a housekeeper. He also has a sister.
Paul entered the elementary school, popularly known as ‘de grote school’, in September 1940; a few months after Netherland was taken over by Germany. Since their school building was confiscated by the Nazis, the classes were taken in different premises.
The situation became even worse during the last months of the Second World War, particularly between the fall of 1944, and the Liberation Day on May 5, 1945. Food, water and heating fuels were scarce and many of his classmates died of hunger and disease during that period.
Classes too were irregular; as a result, most of the children lost a year. However, Paul was able to get outside help and so he was one of the few children, who were promoted to the final class without having to lose a year.
In 1946, he completed his elementary education and entered Hogere Burgerschool (Higher Citizen School). Here, apart from normal curricula, they had to learn English, French and German. Although he did well in them, physics and mathematics was his favorite subject.
Paul J. Crutzen passed out from Hogere Burgerschool in 1951. Unfortunately, due to heavy fever, his grades in the final exam were not good. Therefore, he did not qualify for university stipend.
It meant, if he wanted to go to university, his parents, whose financial condition was not at all good, would have to support him for four more years. Therefore, he decided to enroll at Middelbare Technische School (MTS), which was a middle technical school and become a civil engineer.
The advantage of enrolling at MTS was that, although it took three years to finish the course, he could work and earn a salary in the second year. With that, he was able to complete his studies and received his degree in 1954.
Continue Reading Below
In 1954, soon after receiving his degree in civil engineering, Crutzen joined Bridge Construction Bureau of the City of Amsterdam. His service was interrupted in 1956, when he was called to undergo the 21-months compulsory military service.
On being released from military service, he rejoined Bridge Construction Bureau in early 1958; but pined for academic service. So when he saw an advertisement, seeking a computer programmer for the Department of Meteorology of Stockholm Högskola (later Stockholm University), he applied for the job and got it too.
On July 1, 1959, Crutzen joined his new position at Stockholm. Although he did not have any experience in the field of computer programming he quickly got used to the mathematical complexity of early programming and created computer programs suitable for meteorological work.
Concurrently, he also attended lectures on mathematics, mathematical statistics, and meteorology at the University, ultimately receiving his filosofie kandidat (corresponding to MS) degree in 1963. Unfortunately, he could not study physics or chemistry because those subjects required laboratory work, which he could not afford. Thus he became a pure theoretician.
Meanwhile, he kept working in various meteorological projects, helping to build and run some of the first barotropic weather prediction models. Sometime in 1965, he was asked to help a US scientist to develop a numerical model of the oxygen allotrope distribution in different layers of the atmosphere.
Working on it, he became highly interested in the photochemistry of atmospheric ozone and decided to write his filosofie licentiat thesis (comparable to a Ph.D. thesis) on it. His paper was titled ‘Determination of parameters appearing in the 'dry' and the 'wet' photochemical theories for ozone in the stratosphere’.
Subsequently, he received his doctoral degree in 1968. Next in 1969, he joined the European Space Research Organization at the Clarendon Laboratory of the University of Oxford, England as a post-doctoral fellow.
In 1970, while working there, Crutzen established how the ozone layer in the stratosphere is depleted by nitrous oxide released from the Earth’s surface. The work later earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In 1971, after the completion of his postdoctoral term, he returned to Stockholm University as Research Associate. By the time he left Stockholm in 1974, he had become a Research Professor.
Continue Reading Below
In 1974, Crutzen joined National Center for Atmospheric Research (located at Boulder, Colorado, USA) as a Research Professor in its Upper Atmosphere Project. In 1977, he was made a Senior Scientist and also the Director of the Air Quality Division at the same institute. He served in this capacity till July 1980.
Concurrently, he also served Aeronomy Laboratory, Environmental Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (also at Boulder) as a consultant. From 1977 to 1981, he was also an Adjunct professor at the Atmospheric Sciences Department, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
In 1980, he returned to Europe as the Director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, West Germany. Concurrently, he was also Member of the Max-Planck-Society for the Advancement of Science.
In 1982, he promoted the theory of ‘Nuclear Winter’. Together with John Birks, he theorized that in case of nuclear war, sooty smoke arising out of fires from industrial centers, oil storage facilities and forests would reach the middle and higher troposphere. They concluded that absorption of sunlight by this black smoke could cause darkness and also strong cooling on the surface of the earth.
In 1983, he became Executive Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, remaining in that position till 1985. Thereafter, he gave up the post to remain as a scholar at the same institute till 2000. Concurrently, he also acted as part time professor in many established universities and institutes in the USA and Germany.
In 2004, he became a scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, where he continued his work on global warming.
In 2006, he proposed that to emphasize the role of mankind in geological as well as ecological condition of the earth the current geological epoch can be termed as Anthropocene.
In January 2008, Crutzen published his last important paper. In it he established that as nitrous oxide is released in the production of biofuels, they contribute more to global warming than the fossil fuels they intend to replace.
Awards & Achievements
In 1995, Paul J. Crutzen received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his “work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone". He shared the award with Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, who had independently worked on the same topic.
Also in 1995, he received United Nations Environment Ozone Awards for Outstanding Contribution for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.
Some other significant prizes received by him were Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1989) and Volvo Environment Prize (1991), Deutscher Umweltpreis of the Umweltstiftung (1994) .
In 2006, he became a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. He is also a Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.