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Hispanic Scientists Inspire the Next Generation of Scientists

National Hispanic Heritage Month, held annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, offers a chance to celebrate pioneering Hispanic scientists, engineers and innovators. It recognizes the work that Hispanic leaders in the scientific enterprise do every day to engage with members of the public about science and inspire the next generation of scientific minds.

Today, learn about the Hispanic scientists whose efforts, past and present, are paving the way for the future of the scientific enterprise.

Dana Bolles

Dana Bolles is one of 125 AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors, women representing a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers and serving as high-profile role models for middle school girls.

As a science communications program manager at NASA and a woman with disabilities, Bolles shared with AAAS in 2020 how she advocates for LGBTQ, women and disability communities.

“You always hear about how women need a seat at the table,” she said. “For those of us in wheelchairs, sometimes we can’t even get to the table because there are stairs to the room.”

Bolles added, “Because we can’t do things the way most people do, we automatically think outside the box. We’re good planners, because it makes our lives easier. We have a lot of assets a non-disabled person might not have.”

Jessica Taaffe

Many AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors share their stories across a range of media. Jessica Taaffe, a microbiologist who aims to advance global health through science, is featured in a recent docuseries, “Not the Science Type.” The film, produced by 3M in partnership with Generous Films and AAAS, celebrates four female scientists who confront stereotypes as they rise to prominence in their fields.

The film was inspired by the results of 3M’s 2021 State of Science Index, a research project across 17 countries that tracks global attitudes about science. Among this year’s key findings: While consensus remains that there is a need for more people in science, technology, engineering and math careers, boys are still encouraged more than girls in STEM, and substantial barriers remain for people of color.

“Scientists are incredibly diverse,” Taaffe said. Girls “can be scientists, and they can be themselves as well.”

Learn more about how both Taaffe and Bolles are working to boost the numbers of Hispanic women in science.

Mario Molina

Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet traces the story of a real-life Hispanic scientist for young readers. The book, written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Teresa Martínez, was the winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Children’s Science Picture Book category.

Mario and the Hole in the Sky shares the story of chemist Mario Molina, introducing him as a curious boy in Mexico City in the 1940s and 1950s. Molina grows up to pursue scientific research in the United States, learning that the molecules called chlorofluorocarbons – found in products like refrigerators and spray cans – were breaking up the earth’s ozone layer. Molina, who went on to be named a AAAS fellow, knows this is a serious problem. Yet it takes many years for the countries of the world to band together to stop creating and using CFCs, which helps the ozone layer repair itself.

Molina died in 2020, but his true story serves as a call to action to young readers for another invisible threat to the planet: climate change.

“We saved our planet once. We can do it again,” Molina said.

AAAS Caribbean Division

One of three AAAS regional divisions, the Caribbean Division has fostered collaboration among scientists from Puerto Rico, Central America, the islands of the Caribbean Basin, Venezuela and southern Mexico since 1985.

The division, which seeks to fulfill the mission of AAAS across the Caribbean region, also focuses on cultivating the next generation of scientists. The division’s meetings have featured students sharing their own research and have presented awards, including the Robert I. Larus Prize, which recognizes the graduate students who have presented the meeting’s best posters, and the Lucy Gaspar Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.

“What we want with this award is to give importance to teachers in their daily lives to influence students to go onto scientific careers,” said Filipa Godoy-Vitorino, president of the AAAS Caribbean Division and a professor at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine.

[Associated image: INFINITY/Adobe Stock and AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors]