We may not always think about it, but scientific contributions have changed our lives. From new medicines to new technologies, science continues to shape our world. The things we take for granted may once have been the life work of a scientist who had to overcome difficulties because of his gender or race. However, they persevered and contributed their ideas to the world. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here are five Hispanic scientists who have made incredible contributions to science.
1. Cesar Milstein
Born in Argentina in 1927, Cesar Milstein’s parents encouraged him and his brothers to make education a priority. After graduating from the University of Buenos Aires with a Ph.D., Milstein accepted a position at the National Institute of Microbiology in Buenos Aires in 1957. He then earned another Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1960 and became a member of the Molecular Biology Laboratory of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England.
Milstein’s main field of study was with antibodies, and in 1984—along with Georges Köhler and Niels K. Jerne—he received the Nobel Prize for helping to develop monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies can help clone and produce an almost unlimited amount of desired antibodies. They are often used in pregnancy tests, blood cell typing and detection of viruses and bacterial diseases.
2. Ines Mexia
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Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía was a Mexican-American botanist born in 1870. Although she was 55 years old when she began her career as a botanist, her contribution to botany was immeasurable. Mexia grew up in Washington before moving to Mexico to manage her late father’s ranch. Her first husband died soon after they were married and she filed for divorce from her second husband after he failed the ranch into the ground. Because of his mental suffering, Mexia moved to San Francisco for treatment. While there, she worked as a social worker before joining the environmental movement.
She joined the Sierra Club and Save the Redwoods League, traveling throughout California. Her work with these organizations inspired her to pursue botany, and at the age of 51, in 1921, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1925, she went on her first plant-collecting trip to Mexico, where she collected over 1,500 species of plants. As the first Mexican-American female botanist, Mexia traveled widely North and South America collecting samples during his 13-year career. She was even the first botanist to collect specimens in Denali National Park.
During her travels, she advocated for indigenous and women’s rights and shook up gender norms by traveling alone and sleeping outside, something women didn’t do much at the time. By the end of his career, Mexia had collected almost 150,000 copieshad a new genus named after her that included 50 species and helped discover and categorize over 500 plants.
3. Helen Rodriguez Trias
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Born in 1929 to immigrant parents, Trias faced adversity at an early age. Despite her fluency in English and good grades, she was not admitted to the more advanced classes at a New York school. Eventually, one of her teachers noticed her academic achievements and had her move into advanced placement courses. This helped Trías take the path to medicine. He studied medicine in San Juan and after completing his residency (at the University Hospital of San Juan) he began teaching at the medical school. While in San Juan, she opened the first children’s clinic in Puerto Rico, and after three years the infant mortality rate dropped by 50 percent.
In 1970, Trias returned to New York as chief of pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. There she encountered other problems. The hospital admits mostly blacks and Hispanics. It was also in dire need of repair. Because of this, activist groups such as the Young Lords occupied hospitals and demanded better facilities and treatment for their people. Trías understood how poverty and inequality lead to poor health. She brought this experience to the women’s health movement of the 1970s.
While white women had to fight for access to safe abortions and birth control, people of color were sometimes subjected to sterilization practices. She founded Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and Committee on Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse. She helped find it the Women’s Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA). In the 1980s, she worked at the AIDS Institute in New York and became an advocate for women and children with HIV. And in 1993, she became the first Latin American elected president of the American Public Health Association.
For her contributions to medicine and human welfare, she was awarded the Presidential Civilian Medal in 2001.
4. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski
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Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski is a Cuban-American scientist who was born in 1993. He is not yet 30 years old, but has numerous scientific achievements, including being the youngest person in the world to build and pilot his own airplane. In 2006, at the age of 12, Pasterski started building set of airplanes, N5886Qand in 2009 she took her first voyage on the ship at the age of 16.
While at MIT for her student, Pasterski was part of A compact muon solenoid (CMS) experiment. The experiment aimed to use particle physics detectors to search for things like the Higgs bosondark matter particles and extra dimensions.
She wrote a paper on electromagnetic memory in 2015 while working on a thesis at Harvard – which was then cited in 2016. Stephen Hawking paper.
Pasterski is currently pursuing a postdoctoral degree at Princeton.
5. Carlos Juan Finley
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Carlos Juan Finlay, born in 1833, was a Cuban epidemiologist who studied yellow fever. A graduate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Finlay was appointed by the Cuban government to investigate the cause of yellow fever with the North American Commission. He was later a Cuban delegate to the International Sanitary Conference in Washington, DC
At the conference, he presented his hypothesis that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever from infected people to healthy people. However, it was largely ignored and even ridiculed by the medical community for nearly 20 years. But that didn’t stop him from trying to prove his hypothesis.
in 1900 Walter Reed of the US Army Yellow Fever Board ventured to visit Cuba, where Finley tried to persuade him to study mosquitoes as a possible vector of the disease. Although initially unconvinced, Reed looked into the possible transmission of yellow fever through mosquitoes and concluded that Finley was indeed correct. This discovery helped eradicate yellow fever in Panama and Cuba. Finlay finally became chief sanitary officer in 1902, and after his death in 1915 the Finlay Institute for Research in Tropical Medicine was established in his honour.