Demand for STEM talent is expected to grow by eight percent over the next eight years. That’s over two times faster than non-STEM jobs! When it comes to connecting kids with STEM careers, role models play a central role. Here’s our shortlist of trailblazing Latinx scientists that have helped us better understand the world and who we think could energize the next generation of scientists.
Protecting the Ozone
We know that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the ozone thanks to Mario Molina, a chemist born in Mexico City. Before he was a professional scientist, he built a chemistry lab in a spare bathroom to experiment at home. His innate curiosity led him to study CFCs in the atmosphere without expecting to prove or disprove their environmental consequences. Before his research, the scientific community assumed that CFCs were destroyed by ultraviolet radiation. Molina and fellow scientists F. Sherwood Rowland and Paul J. Crutzen challenged that assumption in 1947 when they published their theory that CFCs destroyed ozone molecules before becoming inactive. Their theory was proven correct in 1985 when a hole in Earth’s ozone was discovered over Antarctica. Mario, Rowland, and Crutzen received the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry
Breaking Glass Ceilings in Space
When Ellen Ochoa, a native Californian, flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, she became the first Hispanic woman to go to space. She continued to break glass ceilings by becoming the first Hispanic American director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Ochoa earned her bachelor’s in physics and didn’t stop there, earning both a master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering. She is the recipient of several awards and honors, including NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal. You can follow her at @Astro_Ellen.
Professor Pedro Sanchez, a native Cuban, busted the myth that tropical soils were not cultivatable. His research led to groundbreaking ways to improve soil productivity, making it possible for many farmers in poor and rural nations across Latin America and Africa to increase their food production and reduce starvation. In 1991, his agroforestry methods in eastern and southern Africa, which combine planting crops and trees strategically, led 400,000 farmers to increase crop production by nearly 400 percent. As a bonus, this approach mitigates global warming. Read more about Sanchez here.
Mexican American molecular biologist Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff has saved many lives with her contribution to research on how to use bacterial cells to generate insulin. She continues to positively impact lives with her organization the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Do you know a college-bound student who is seriously considering a science career? Have them watch this video from Dr. Villa-Komaroff on Why You Should Study Science.
Make STEM Stick
You can be a science hero too by connecting kids with science. Here are some fun home science experiments to get you started:
Which experiment did you try? Let us know in the comments below.
Ellen Ochoa. Digital image. NASA. Accessed August 2, 2021. https://blogs.nasa.gov/womenatnasa/2015/03/18/womens-history-month-shout-out-dr-ellen-ochoa/
Pedro A. Sanchez. Digital image. ARS USDA. Accessed August 2, 2021. https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/docs/distinguished-lecture/pedro-a-sanchez/
Lydia Villa-Komaroff, PhD. Digital image. SACNAS. Accessed August 2, 2021. https://www.sacnas.org/team/lydia-villa-komaroff-phd/
Mario Molina. Digital Image. BU Today. Accessed August 2, 2021. https://www.bu.edu/articles/2017/mario-molina-bu-commencement/