11 Famous Hispanic Scientists Who Changed the Course of History
Famous Hispanic scientists follow their dreams to change the course of history. They show us how much we can accomplish if we set our minds to it—including learning a second language.
It’s important to acknowledge and honor diversity by crediting these amazing scientists. Read on to learn more about 11 of the most famous Hispanic scientists of all time. They’ll inspire you not only to learn Spanish but also to follow your dreams.
11 Inspiring Famous Hispanic Scientists
From award-winning astronauts to some of the brilliant botanists of the 21st century, we’re celebrating these famous Hispanic scientists who’ve had a positive impact on their field.
1. Mario Molina
Mario Molina is a Mexican scientist and chemist. In 1995, he won a Nobel Prize for his research on how man-made compounds affect the ozone layer. He became interested in science as a young boy and created a chemistry lab in the bathroom.
In 1968, he moved to the United States and earned an advanced degree in physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. He then taught at MIT and UC San Diego.
Mario Molina received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2013. His contributions changed the course of history as he raised awareness on how important it is for us to protect the ozone layer.
Famous quote: “The planet is just too small for these developing countries to repeat the economic growth in the same way that the rich countries have done it in the past. We don’t have enough natural resources, we don’t have enough atmosphere. Clearly, something has to change.”
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2. Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías
Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trias was born in Puerto Rico but moved to New York City when she was young. She became the first Latina president of the American Health Association in 1993.
She experienced bias for being Latina and was placed in a class for academically challenged students because of it. Even though she spoke English well and got good grades, they still thought it was a handicap to be Hispanic.
Dr. Rodriguez Trías got her medical degree from the Universidad de Puerto Rico with high honors. She founded the first center for newborns in Puerto Rico and served as Director of Pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in New York. Dr. Trias also led the New York City Department of Health Mental Hygiene and brought national attention to the devastation caused by AIDS and HIV.
Famous quotes: “I hope I’ll see in my lifetime a growing realization that we are one world.”
“No one is going to have quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life… Not on a basis of do-goodism, but because of a real commitment… it’s our collective and personal health that’s at stake.”
3. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski
At 28, Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski already has a long list of accomplishments. When she was 14 years old, she was the youngest human being to build an airplane, certify it airworthy, and conduct the first flight in that same aircraft.
She studied physics at MIT and was the first female to win the MIT Physics Orloff Scholarship award. The list goes on and on.
Sabrina is a first generation Cuban American who has been called the next Einstein. When she was 24, she started her doctorate degree in physics at Harvard. In 2015, she completed a solo research paper on electromagnetic memory which Stephen Hawking cited in his research that was published the year after.
Famous quotes: “When I want to motivate myself to do more, like, if there’s a particular task that I want to do but haven’t been able to do it, and I see that someone else has done it, I think ‘If they can do it, I can do it.”
“The access to content—what you can learn, what you can study, is growing, so anyone can learn anything—even in their home. You can take classes and listen to lectures from Harvard and other places online. Access to content and access to each other.”
4. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa
Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa is a world-renowned researcher and neurosurgeon who runs the research lab at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
Quiñones-Hinojosa and his team have published more than 150 scientific studies on the development of brain cancer. He also leads the National Institute of Health initiative to find a cure for brain cancer and has worked relentlessly to save patients with brain cancer.
He also developed minimally-invasive neurosurgical techniques with the use of nanotechnology which have been a game-changer in the medical field.
Famous quotes: “I’m not a genius. I just worked really, really hard, and I want our generation, our children and our future generations to realize that they can fulfill the same dreams.”
“You have to have passion for everything you do, and you’ve got to look at the positive side.”
5. César Milstein
César Milstein is a Nobel Prize winning biochemist who has opened new doors in the diagnosis and treatment of disease since the 1970s.
In 1975, his study on monoclonal antibodies helped develop a technique for the unlimited production of monoclonal antibodies. This is a type of antibody made by identical immune cells that enable more accurate diagnoses.
Thanks to Milstein’s efforts, monoclonal antibodies now serve as treatments for autoimmune diseases.
Famous quote: “What attracted me to immunology was that the whole thing seemed to revolve around a very simple experiment: take two different antibody molecules and compare their primary sequences. The secret of antibody diversity would emerge from that. Fortunately, at the time I was sufficiently ignorant of the subject not to realize how naive I was being.
6. Nicole Hernandez Hammer
Nicole Hernandez Hammer is a Guatemalan researcher and biologist who studies the effects of climate change on sea levels, as well as vulnerable populations on the coastal areas of the southeastern United States. She speaks extensively on climate change impact and has
authored several papers for international media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Nicole Hernandez Hammer also started the Moms Clean Air Force, working to enlist parents in the public policy debate over how to stop air pollution and global warming.
Famous quote: “If climate change risks continue to be evaluated according to strictly economic gains and losses, many of the most vulnerable Americans will lose out.”
7. Pedro A. Sanchez
Professor Pedro A. Sanchez went from selling eggs in Cuba to washing dishes to fund his education at Cornell University in New York. He has led groundbreaking research in soil science to help improve soil quality and boost food production in developing countries.
Sanchez’s work spurred the Green Revolution. Thanks to him, 15 million people no longer starve to death in poor countries. Pedro has proven that you don’t need to depend on a broken system to eat. You can learn how to work the soil and grow your own food. Not only do people have access to food but it’s also sustainable for the environment.
Famous quotes: “We must develop a truly global roadmap to eradicate all forms of discrimination still suffered by women.”
“Change can be for good if you combine audacity with safety.”
8. Dr. Frances Colón
Dr. Frances Colon grew up in Puerto Rico and earned her PhD in neuroscience from Brandeis University. She was the Science and Technology Adviser and Secretary at John Kerry University.
In 2009, she led the Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas. In 2015, she co-chaired the UN Commission on Science and Technology. Colón led an Obama administration initiative to accelerate sustainable energy in the Americas.
She’s been a pioneer in neuroscience and sustainability. Dr. Colón is also an outspoken advocate for women and girls who want to pursue careers in science.
Famous quote: “Every moment in life, every opportunity is a choice to innovate and have an impact.”
9. Ynes Mexia
Ynes Mexia is one of the most famous Hispanic American scientists of all time. She’s a Mexican-American botanist who discovered two new plant genera and 500 new plant species.
She was born to a Mexican diplomat father and spent years as a social worker before earning her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, where she discovered her passion for botany. In her era (the early 20th century), she faced many challenges as a professional Hispanic woman.
Between the 1910s and 1920s, she traveled throughout Mexico, South America, and Alaska, collecting approximately 145,000 plant specimens in 13 years. Today, 50 plant species are named after her.
Famous quote: “Many people at the time said that a woman could not travel alone. I don’t think there is any place in the world where a woman can’t venture.”
10. Ellen Ochoa
Ellen Ochoa was a research engineer and inventor who created optical systems for aerospace missions. She began working at the Johnson Space Center in 1990 and was selected to be an astronaut.
Ochoa served as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston from 2013 to 2018. She was the center’s first woman Hispanic director. She made history when she became the first Latina in space but also by being the second female director of all time.
Famous quotes: “I tell students that the opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.”
“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire—the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
11. Jaime Escalante
Jaime Escalante was a math educator and professor from Bolivia. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and fought for Hispanic students’ rights to get an education. The film Stand and Deliver chronicles his life; Escalante is portrayed by Edward James Olmos.
In the 1970s, he began teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California to help the Latino youth by teaching them advanced math. In 1982, Escalante’s class took and passed an advanced placement test in calculus.
Escalante received several awards, including the Presidential Medal for Excellence for his contributions to education. In 1999, he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
Escalante died in 2010 after a long struggle with cancer and was survived by his wife Fabiola, and two sons.
Famous quotes: “One of the greatest things in life is that no one has the authority to tell you what you want to be. You’re the one who’ll decide what you want to be.”
“Education is the ticket to success.”
Get Inspired and Change History
Are you inspired by these famous Hispanic scientists to learn Spanish? Learning a second language has many proven benefits, including keeping your brain sharp and boosting your ability to retain new concepts.
Learning Spanish not only enhances your resume, but also empowers you to make new friends from all over the world, enhance your travel experiences, and try different food from this welcoming culture. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by signing up for a free trial class and skyrocketing your fluency to a new level. Learners of all levels are welcome, including total beginners. Take a look at our programs and prices and find out why so many people take 1-to-1 classes online at Homeschool Spanish Academy.
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