Gene Likens receives Benjamin Franklin Medal

Gene Likens stands at podium delivering a speech

Gene Likens, a board of trustees distinguished research professor speaks during the opening ceremony of “Climate Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation: A reflection of Our Future”, a symposium held at the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room on March 26, 2012. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Gene Likens, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has been awarded the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science for his work in educating the public and U.S. government about acid rain and its effects, as well as his extensive research on forests, lake and stream ecosystems. Likens served a key role in solving the acid rain puzzle that categorized the 1970’s and 80’s. In the 1960s, after discovering unusually high acidity in the rainwater that fell over Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Likens began to travel the globe installing rainwater analysis stations in some of the most obscure places on Earth. Likens found that stations located in areas untouched by human industry and its pollution reported normal levels of rainwater acidity. After collecting various air samples from the skies over Ohio, Likens and his team unearthed the process by which “industrial emissions combined with water vapor create acid rain,” which had been responsible for damage to city infrastructure and environmental ecosystems.  Likens and his team also discovered that the effects weren’t exclusive to cities, and could spread miles from the emissions source. This lead to his education and advocacy efforts which helped inform the 1990 Clean Air Act which led to dramatic improvements in reducing the effect of acid rain. Likens joins distinguished past recipients, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Rudolf Diesel, Pierre and Marie Curie, Orville Wright, Albert Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jacques Cousteau, and Stephen Hawking.

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