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California and the West

UC Irvine Expected to Name Chief

Education: Ralph J. Cicerone, dean of campus' physical sciences department, emerges as replacement for Chancellor Laurel Wilkening.


Ralph J. Cicerone, a celebrated UC Irvine scientist who performed pioneering research into global warming and the depletion of Earth's protective ozone layer, is expected to be named today as the new chancellor of the Irvine campus, sources close to the selection said.

University of California President Richard C. Atkinson made the selection after a six-month nationwide search with the help of a committee of faculty, staff and other UC officials. He will forward Cicerone's name to the UC Board of Regents today for official approval.

Cicerone, UC Irvine's dean of physical sciences since 1994, declined to comment late Wednesday, saying he agreed to keep the selection process secret.

"I am not in a position to confirm or deny anything," he said. "I really do not want to encourage any news coverage."

He will replace Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening, who has decided to step down to pursue projects outside higher education after leading the campus through a tumultuous period of highs and lows that included twin Nobel prizes and an ugly scandal at a now-defunct fertility clinic.

Cicerone came to UC Irvine in 1989, when he was recruited from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., to launch the geosciences department--a first-of-a-kind interdisciplinary center to study the dynamics of air, earth and sea.

He was a natural fit to lead such a cross-disciplinary pursuit: Trained as an electrical engineer and physicist, he was also a scientist who had made important contributions to the field of atmospheric chemistry.

It was Cicerone's work with a University of Michigan scientist that helped lay the groundwork for his friend and UC Irvine colleague F. "Sherry" Sherwood Rowland and MIT's Mario Molina's discovery that chlorofluorocarbons used as refrigerants and propellants in spray cans were eating a hole in the protective ozone layer. That discovery won Rowland and Molina the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995.

A year after Cicerone arrived at UC Irvine, the school gave him a lifetime appointment to the Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. endowed chair of geosciences, named after UC Irvine's founding chancellor. Cicerone replaced Rowland, who relinquished that chair when he was named a Bren Fellow.

Some of Cicerone's most famous research was released in 1985 when he and three colleagues stunned scientists by declaring that CFCs, methane and other trace gases may someday equal or surpass carbon dioxide as the main greenhouse gas.

Cicerone, born in New Castle, Pa., earned his undergraduate degree at MIT before obtaining a doctoral degree in electrical engineering and physics at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is a member of the elite National Academy of Sciences and one of the few American scientists to receive a United Nations award for his research that seeks to protect the ozone layer.

Cicerone's wife, Carol, is also a professor at UC Irvine. A respected scholar in the study of human sensory processes, she is a professor of cognitive sciences at the School of Social Sciences. They live in Corona del Mar.

Cicerone's arrival at UC Irvine bolstered the standing of the physical sciences faculty, already known for such work as Rowland's groundbreaking research.

Wilkening announced in early September that she would step down by June 30 to explore projects outside higher education and planned to move to Arizona, where she has a home and winery. Appointed in 1993, she has been the third chancellor of the 32-year-old school.

Wilkening presided over a period on campus marked by great triumph. The school basked in international attention in 1995 when Nobel prizes were awarded to two faculty members, Rowland for chemistry and Frederick Reines for physics.

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