Ralph Cicerone, fourth UCI chancellor and acclaimed scientist, dies at 73
Founder of Earth system science department was also physical sciences dean, NAS head
Ralph J. Cicerone, fourth chancellor of the University of California, Irvine and internationally acclaimed atmospheric chemist, died Saturday, Nov. 5. He was 73.
Cicerone’s research helped shape environmental policy at the highest levels nationally and globally. As chancellor of UCI from 1998 to 2005, he oversaw a rapid rise in its academic capabilities as well as the construction of major research halls and the $375 million teaching hospital at UC Irvine Medical Center. Cicerone left UCI after being elected president of the National Academy of Sciences, where he wielded international clout on scientific issues until his retirement in 2016.
“For his powerful and profound work as a chemist and Earth system scientist, and for his recognized stature in his discipline, we in academia salute Ralph Cicerone,” said UCI’s sixth and current chancellor, Howard Gillman. “For his courageous work uncovering the causes and effects of climate change, the world owes him a debt of gratitude. And from UCI, we offer Ralph our own special thanks for his extraordinary contributions to the global preeminence of this institution.”
Cicerone arrived at UCI in 1989 and was founding chair of the Department of Earth System Science, which has grown to international prominence, and dean of the School of Physical Sciences.
“Ralph played a central role in moving the School of Physical Sciences and UCI to a premier position as a top research university,” said Kenneth C. Janda, current physical sciences dean. “His design for the Earth system science department was unique and well ahead of its time, bringing together top scientists from engineering, physics and chemistry to study a problem of crucial importance to humanity: climate change. Ralph was a leader in gender equity too, and he demonstrated to the world that a department with a significant number of female faculty members could rise to the top in national and international rankings and prestige. He was also known for his great humility and kindness to others, from the most distinguished scientists to our students.”
During his tenure as a researcher, Cicerone received the prestigious Bower Award & Prize for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute and was recognized on the citation for the Nobel Prize in chemistry won by colleague F. Sherwood Rowland in 1995. He frequently provided expert testimony about climate change policy to congressional committees.
Cicerone once said of his research experience: “I learned a lot about the impact of research and how people do it at universities. But at the same time, I learned some practical things, like what are the rules of the federal agencies.” He shared his expertise, advising younger faculty on how to apply for national grants.
As chancellor, Cicerone used his fundraising acumen to dramatically increase private giving to UCI. He understood that a university must do more than great research; it must offer on-campus activities to attract the best students and donors. Accordingly, Cicerone helped revive UCI’s baseball program, and Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark is named in his honor.
He lent his expertise and knowledge to the campus again in January 2016, when he joined a panel of higher education luminaries at an academic symposium celebrating UCI’s 50th anniversary. Cicerone called access to a university education a basic American value.
“What makes it so wonderful to live here and attracts so many people to live here – and many, many more who wish they could come – is the premise that in the United States, [the course of]one’s individual life is not based on how he or she was born – as a member of royalty or due to that person’s religion or political influence,” he said. “Instead, the fundamental premise is that every individual should have opportunity, and with that opportunity and determination and goals and capability, we can achieve virtually anything. The biggest enabler of all is higher education.”
Cicerone earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Early in his career, he was a research scientist and faculty member at the University of Michigan and a research chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. From 1980 to 1989, Cicerone was a senior scientist and director of the atmospheric chemistry division at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, a UCI professor emerita of cognitive sciences; daughter, Sara Cicerone; and twin grandchildren, Zoe and Ari.