October 5, 2022

Celebrating Influential Hispanic and Latinx Scientists

Meet a few of the medical champions, aerospace trailblazers and public health advocates who have made, and continue to make, groundbreaking discoveries and scientific advances across our communities.

A leading museum for science learning in the U.S., Discovery Place Science celebrates Hispanic and Latinx scientists, medical professionals, engineers and astronauts past and present who have developed modern medicine, contributed to spaceflight, advanced public health initiatives and more.

Through the years, Discovery Place Science has proudly hosted inspiring, impactful and interactive exhibitions and labs highlighting these critical areas of science. Meet a few of the medical champions, aerospace trailblazers and public health advocates who have made, and continue to make, groundbreaking discoveries and scientific advances across our communities.

Carlos Juan Finlay, MD | Epidemiologist

Dr. Carlos Juan Finlay of Cuba was an epidemiologist who first proposed the theory that mosquitos might be the super-spreaders of the deadly disease yellow fever. Twenty years later, at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Finlay’s work was finally confirmed by other scientists and he was invited to work with the U.S. Army to control mosquito populations. From the Spanish-American War to the construction of the Panama Canal, Dr. Finlay’s groundbreaking insights saved countless lives.

José Celso Barbosa, MD | Physician

In 1875, Dr. José Celso Barbosa left Puerto Rico for New York City for education but was met with disappointment when Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons rejected his application because the college had decided “not to receive students of color.” Despite this, he graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in 1880, becoming the first Puerto Rican to receive a medical degree in the United States. Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Barbosa cared for soldiers during the Spanish-American War, advocated for employer-based health insurance and fought for U.S. statehood for the island of Puerto Rico.

Severo Ochoa, MD | Biochemist, Molecular Biologist

Dr. Severo Ochoa was a Spanish-American biochemist and molecular biologist. In 1959, he became the first Hispanic American to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine due to his discovery of an enzyme that synthesizes RNA.

Antonia Novello, MD | Physician

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Once she earned her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Antonia Novello spent many years working in public health, eventually working her way up to the National Institutes of Health and finally becoming the first female and first Hispanic U.S. Surgeon General.

Ellen Ochoa | Engineer, Astronaut

Ellen Ochoa fulfilled her dreams of becoming an engineer then an astronaut. In 1993, she made history aboard the space shuttle Discovery, becoming the first Latina astronaut to go to space. Back on Earth, she would continue to break records by becoming the first Latina (and second female) director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS | Dentist, Plastic Surgeon

Doctor Eduardo D. Rodriguez was born to Cuban immigrants and raised in Miami, Florida. After receiving his degree in neurobiology, he initially pursued dentistry before pivoting and studying for his medical degree to work in plastic surgery. As the leader of the face and limb transplant program at NYU Lagone Medical Center, Dr. Rodriguez and his team conducted the first face transplant in August 2015, with life-changing results for the patient.

Serena Auñón-Chancellor, MD | Physician, Astronaut

Doctor and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor became the first Hispanic physician to travel to space in 2018, conducting research aboard the International Space Station. After returning to Earth, she became a frontline worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD | Physician

Originally from Colombia, Dr. Juan Carlos Caicedo became a physician after moving to the United States. He developed the first Hispanic transplant program in the country, focused on educating the Hispanic community about the process of organ donation/transplantation. Dr. Caicedo is director of the Hispanic Transplant Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and his complicated and delicate transplant surgeries have saved thousands of lives.