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Latinx in Science

Written by Destinee Mondragon

We are celebrating Latinx Heritage Month in which we celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.



Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to travel into space in 1993 and she later served as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center from 2013 to 2018.  

Ochoa studied electrical engineering at Stanford University, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate in the 80’s. “A specialist in the development of optical systems, she worked as a research engineer at Sandia National Laboratories and at the Ames Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She helped create several systems and methods that were awarded patents, including optical systems for the detection of imperfections in a repeating pattern and for the recognition of objects.”

Ochoa was selected by NASA in 1990 to participate in its astronaut program, and she became the first Hispanic female astronaut . In April 1993, she served as mission specialist aboard the STS-56 mission of the space shuttle, Discovery, becoming the first Latina to be launched into space.

Her impact was monumental to women all over the world especially Latina women to truly chase their dreams. Space exploration was a region for men and was that way for so long until Ochoa as a Latina showed that she had so much to contribute as well. 

Albert Baez was the first director of the science education program for UNESCO and an advocate for education in the sciences. “Baez worked to improve science education in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Baez earned a bachelor’s degree from Drew University in 1933 and a masters’ degree from Syracuse University in 1935. In 1950 he earned his physics doctorate at Stanford University, where he and Dr. Paul Kirkpatrick invented the x-ray reflecting microscope, the tool that launched the field of x-ray optics.” 

After completing his education he spent some time working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He was stationed in Baghdad teaching introductory Physics, which he and his wife wrote about in their book, “A Year in Baghdad.”  He has published several science textbooks . As a lifelong pacifist, he opposed the Vietnam War and joined in protests against it. Albert Baez was an aficionado of the arts, and encouraged his children to pursue careers in music.

Albert Baez put personal effort to what he wanted to advocate for the sciences and even assisted the making of x-ray optics. Not just being a part of the science community he also believed in the arts and was part of the peace movement. Baez was a man who appreciated and valued the three values of: compassion, creativity, and compassion. 

They are only the few of the many Latinos in our community that have contributed to the way we live our lives. We owe them gratitude in inspiring us to be the difference that shapes our world. No matter how big or small the idea is, we should always pursue our dreams no matter our race, color, or where we come from. 


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