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We may not always think about it, but scientific input has changed our lives. From new drugs to new technologies, science continues to shape our world. The things we take for granted may once have been the life’s work of a scientist who had to overcome adversity on the basis of gender or race. However, they persisted and communicated their ideas to the world. On the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month, we present five Latin American scientists who have made an amazing contribution to science.

1. César Milstein

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Born in Argentina in 1927, César Milstein’s parents encouraged him and his brothers to prioritize education. After completing his doctoral studies at the University of Buenos Aires, Milstein accepted a position at the National Institute of Microbiology in Buenos Aires in 1957. Then he obtained another doctorate. from Cambridge University in 1960 and became a member of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

The main area of ​​Milstein’s research was antibodies, and in 1984 – together with Georges Köhler and Niels K. Jern – he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his help in the development of monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies can help clone and produce almost an unlimited amount of the desired antibodies. They are often used in pregnancy testing, blood cell typing, and the detection of viruses and bacterial diseases.

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2. Ynés Mexía

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Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía was a Mexican-American botanist born in 1870. Although she was 55 when she began her botany career, her contributions to botany are immeasurable. Mexía grew up in Washington before moving to Mexico to run her late father’s ranch. Her first husband died shortly after the wedding, and she filed for divorce from her second husband after he collapsed the ranch to the ground. Due to suffering from mental health, Mexía moved to San Francisco for treatment. There she worked as a social worker before joining the environmental movement.

She joined the Sierra Club and Save the Redwoods League, traveling all over California. Her work with these organizations inspired her to practice botany, and at the age of 51 in 1921, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1925, she went on her first trip to Mexico, where she collected over 1,500 species of plants. As the first Mexican-American botanist, Mexía traveled all over North and South America collecting samples during her 13-year career. She was even the first botanist to collect samples in Denali National Park.

During her travels, she championed the rights of natives and women, and shook gender norms by traveling alone and sleeping outside – something women didn’t do much at the time. At the end of her career, Mexía collected nearly 150,000 specimens, named a new genus after her, which included 50 species, and helped discover and classify over 500 plants.

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3. Helen Rodríguez Trías

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Born in 1929 to an immigrant family, Trías faced adversities at an early age. Despite her fluency in English and good grades, she was not allowed into the more advanced classes at the New York School. Eventually, one of her teachers noticed her academic achievement and made her take advanced courses. This helped Trías enter the path of medicine. She studied medicine in San Juan, and after graduating in residency (at San Juan University Hospital), she began teaching at a medical school. While in San Juan, she set up the first infant health clinic in Puerto Rico, and three years later, infant mortality dropped by 50 percent.

In 1970, Trías returned to New York City as head of the pediatric unit at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. There she encountered other problems. The hospital mainly admitted black and Hispanic patients. It also urgently needed repair. For this reason, activist groups such as Young Lords occupied hospitals and demanded better facilities and treatment for their people. Trías saw how poverty and inequality had led to the deterioration of health. She brought this experience to the women’s health movement in the 1970s.

While white women have had to struggle to access safe abortions and birth control, women of color have occasionally been sterilized. She established the Committee on Ending the Abuse of Sterilization and the Committee on the Right to Abortion and Against the Abuse of Sterilization. She helped found the Women’s Club and Latin American Club of the 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 to be elected president of the American Public Health Association.

Thanks to her contribution to medicine and human well-being, in 2001 she was awarded the Presidential Civic Medal.

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4. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski

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Sabrina Gonzales Pasterski is a Cuban-American scientist born in 1993. He is not yet 30 years old, has numerous scientific achievements, including being the youngest person in the world to build and pilot his own planes. In 2006, at the age of 12, Pasterski began building the N5886Q, and in 2009 she made her maiden voyage at the age of 16.

During his undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Pasterski, he participated in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. The experiment was to use particle physics detectors to search for things such as the Higgs boson, dark matter particles and extra dimensions.

She wrote an article on electromagnetic memory in 2015 while preparing for her degree at Harvard – which was then quoted in a 2016 article by Stephen Hawking.

Pasterski is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton.

5. Carlos Juan Finlay

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Carlos Juan Finlay, born in 1833, was a Cuban epidemiologist who studied yellow fever. Finlay, a graduate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, has been commissioned by the Cuban government to investigate the cause of yellow fever by a North American commission. He later was a Cuban delegate to the International Sanitary Conference in Washington.

At the conference, he presented his hypothesis that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever from infected people to healthy people. However, for almost 20 years it was largely ignored and even ridiculed by the medical community. However, this did not stop him from trying to prove his hypothesis.

In 1900, Walter Reed of the US Yellow Fever Commission traveled to Cuba, where Finlay tried to convince him to look at mosquitoes as a possible transmitter of the disease. Though initially unconvinced, Reed looked at the possibility of mosquito transmission of yellow fever and concluded that Finlay was indeed right. This discovery helped eliminate yellow fever in Panama and Cuba. Finlay eventually became Chief Sanitary Inspector in 1902, and after his death in 1915, the Finlay Institute for Investigations in Tropical Medicine was established in his honor.

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