José Mario Molina-Pasquel and Henríquez were born on March 19, 1943 in Mexico City to Roberto Molina Pasquel and Leonor Henríquez Molina. His father was a lawyer and judge and served as the Mexican ambassador to Ethiopia, the Philippines and Australia. His mother was a housewife.
He was fascinated by science from the early days when he wrote in a paper that appears on the Nobel website: “I still remember my excitement when I first looked at paramecia and amoeba through a rather primitive toy microscope . ”He converted an underused bathroom in his house into a laboratory for his chemistry kits, run by an aunt, Esther Molina, who was a chemist.
According to tradition, his family sent him abroad to complete his training there. At the age of eleven he attended boarding school in Switzerland, “on the assumption that German is an important language for a budding chemist”.
Deciding that of his two passions, chemistry and the violin, he would devote himself to science, he enrolled in the chemical engineering program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1960. After studying in Paris and Germany, he began studying at the University of California at Berkeley in 1968. In 1972 he received his doctorate there in physical chemistry.
The experience of studying at Berkeley wasn’t just important to his development as a scientist, as he would remember. It arrived in the wake of free speech, and political awareness was part of everyday life. He initially worked in the fledgling field of chemical lasers, but was “dismayed” to find that some researchers from other institutions were developing high-powered lasers for use as weapons.
“That was important,” said Felipe José Molina, Dr. Molina’s son and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an interview. Thanks to the experience of Dr. Molina at Berkeley, his son said he felt driven to do work that “benefited society, and not just research or things that could potentially be harmful.”