Villanova University has named Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan, PhD, an internationally renowned pioneer in climate science and climate change research, as the recipient of its 2018 Mendel Medal. The Mendel Medal, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, is given to outstanding contemporary scientists in recognition of their accomplishments.
Dr. Ramanathan serves as the distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. This award recognizes Dr. Ramanathan’s prodigious research accomplishments including his discovery of the greenhouse effect of halocarbons, particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) previously used in aerosol products; his prediction in 1980 that global warming would be detected by the year 2000; his work with NASA's climate satellite during the 1980s to identify and quantify how the radiation field interacts with water vapor and clouds to regulate climate change; and his ongoing scientific search for solutions to the growing consequences of global warming.
“Today, the world is confronted by the consequences of global warming—melting glaciers, wildfires, desertification, and floods—a problem for which Dr. Ramanathan has been engaged for almost forty years,” said the Rev. Kail Ellis, OSA, PhD, Special Assistant to the President and Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. “As Pope Francis noted in his encyclical Laudato Si’, ‘many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest.’ Dr. Ramanathan represents Pope Francis’s emphasis on the need for ‘a new and universal solidarity’ by raising awareness of this crisis by his scientific research. In fact, The Holy Father appointed him as the science advisor to the Holy See delegation to the Paris Summit in 2015.”
Established in 1928 by the Board of Trustees of Villanova University, the Mendel Medal is conferred on “outstanding scientists who have done much by their painstaking work to advance the cause of science and, by their lives and their standing before the world as scientists, have demonstrated that between true science and true religion there is no intrinsic conflict.”
In the 1990s Dr. Ramanathan discovered the widespread Atmospheric Brown Clouds over South Asia, which have devastating health and climate impacts. He developed light weight unmanned aerial vehicles to track pollution plumes from South and East Asia as well as North America. Dr. Ramanathan’s recent finding that mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants will slow down global warming during this century resulted in a proposal adopted by the United Nations and 30 countries, including the United States, forming the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. His primary areas of current research interest include societal transformation for climate mitigation; mitigation of climate change; climate dynamics; the greenhouse effect; air pollution; clouds; aerosols, satellite radiation measurements; and global climate models.
“Dr. Ramanathan was particularly influential in the composition of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, Laudate Si’,” added Fr. Ellis, noting Dr. Ramanathan’s membership in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has its roots in the Academy of the Lynxes founded in 1603 and whose first president was Galileo Galilei. The academy was reconstituted by Pope Pius XI in 1936 and is the most exclusive scientific academy in the world, counting among its members the world’s most prominent scientists. Its activities range from a traditional interest in pure research to a concern with the ethical and environmental responsibility of the scientific community.
Acting on his conviction that societal transformation for climate mitigation is crucial, Dr. Ramanathan founded Project Surya, which initiated an innovative financing mechanism in India and Nigeria that enables the very poor to switch from highly polluting cookstoves to clean cooking through direct usage-based climate credits for black carbon and carbon dioxide. The aim of the project, according to its mission statement, is “to mitigate the regional impacts of global warming by immediately and demonstrably reducing atmospheric concentrations of black carbon, methane, and ozone.” Reducing these air pollutants is expected to immediately improve public health, agricultural productivity and economic development for the rural populations in developing nations. Partnering with his daughter, Dr. Nithya Ramanathan, President and Co-founder of NexLeaf Analytics, a wireless sensor NGO, and Hafeez Rehman of TERI (India), Project Surya is linking the village women using improved stoves to the carbon credit market directly.
Dr. Ramanathan has published widely in scientific journals and has led three major studies to develop comprehensive solutions to the climate change problem. Toward this end he is working with the Vatican to form an alliance between science, policy and religion to have a transformational impact on society to take actions that protect both people and nature.
He is an elected member of numerous prestigious societies including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope John Paul II and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He currently serves on Pope Francis’ Council for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and was co-organizer of “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature,” a 2014 Vatican meeting of social and natural scientists, philosophers and policy makers. Dr. Ramanathan was named the Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2013. In addition, he has received numerous honors and awards, including the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, which is the top environmental prize awarded in the United States; the Volvo Environment Prize; and the American Meteorological Society’s Carl-Gustav Rossby Prize.
Dr. Ramanathan earned a B.E. degree from Annamalai University, India (Eng.); an MSc. degree from the Indian Institute of Science, India (Engineering Science); and a PhD from State University of New York at Stony Brook (Planetary Atmospheres).
First awarded in 1929, Villanova’s Mendel Medal honors 19th century Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Johann Mendel, Abbot of the Augustinian Monastery, Brünn, Austria (now Brno, the Czech Republic), best known as “the father of modern genetics,” for his discovery of the celebrated laws of heredity that bear his name. As an institution founded by the Augustinian Order, Villanova University plays a key role in sustaining Mendel’s legacy. Past recipients of the Mendel Medal have included Nobel Laureates, outstanding medical researchers, pioneers in physics, astrophysics and chemistry, and noted scientist-theologians. Click here for more information on the Mendel Medal, its history and 90th anniversary commemoration.
The Mendel Medal Lecture will take place at 2 p.m. on November 16, 2018, in the Villanova Room at the University’s Connelly Center. Dr. Ramanathan’s Mendel Medal Lecture is titled: “Climate Change: Scientific Basis and Solutions to Bend the Curve.” The event is free and open to the public. Parking will be available on campus at the I-1 Ithan Avenue Parking Garage.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.