There are people whose work transcends generations, continents, and expectations. One of them is Lueny Morell, a Puerto Rican chemical engineer who transformed teaching methods in engineering, not only in Puerto Rico but around the world. The legacy of Lueny, who passed away in September of 2020, continues to impact the lives of many today.
Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar is a neuroscience researcher at the UPR-Rio Piedras
“What would be ideal is for gender and race equality to exist in science, for everyone to be represented equally.” That is the biggest goal of Puerto Rican scientist, Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, who is a distinguished researcher and mentor in the field of neuroscience. In addition to contributing new knowledge to the field on the mechanisms of addiction, she has forged paths for the new generation of Latinx scientists.
Did you know that the colors of butterflies, the development of the heart and the resistance of certain bacteria to peroxide have something in common? They are all a result of the interaction between proteins and nucleic acids (such as DNA). Discovering and understanding the interactions between these two molecules essential for life is important to explain different biological processes, which is the goal of Dr. José A. Rodríguez Martínez. As a principal investigator and assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras (UPR-RP), he developed a technique to interrogate any protein and ask, which nucleic acid sequence do you interact with?
When astrophysicist Dr. Héctor Arce returned home to Puerto Rico in October of 2015, it was to bring a handful of Yale astronomy students to Arecibo Observatory, at that time, the largest single dish radio telescope in the world. For Héctor, a professor of astrophysics at Yale University, passion for the stars started at home. When Héctor was young, his grandfather used to build his own telescopes. “I still have them,” Héctor says. Staring through the lenses of those telescopes with his grandfather opened a universe of possibility for young Héctor.
For many, studying mathematics is synonymous with difficulties and frustration. However, numbers has opened many doors for for Dr. Nelson Colón Vargas. The most recent were the doors of the federal government. In February 2019, Dr. Colón Vargas became the first Puerto Rican to receive the "Presidential Innovation Fellowship" of the White House of the United States.
Born and raised in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, it is safe to say that Nelson is passionate about numbers. He has a baccalaureate, two masters' and a Ph.D. in mathematics. His interest in this field began in elementary school. He had excellent teachers growing up. For him, his passion for mathematics is matched only by his curiosity to understand the world.
Dr. Hernández Ayala is a professor of geographic climatology at Sonoma State University
Climatology, the study of weather changes over time, is a prominent scientific field often cited in the media. Sonoma State University, in California, is one of several institutions that has a Climate Research Center (CRC-Sonoma), in which scientists from different disciplines collaborate to better understand the relationships between short-term atmospheric phenomena, the climate, physical geography and human geography. Notably, CRC-Sonoma is directed by a young Arecibeño scientist!
Puerto Rican physicist Dr. Mayda Velasco (Copyright: Ramon "Tonito" Zayas for El Nuevo Día)
Dr. Mayda Velasco is a world-renowned physicist who thinks big—from understanding the universe’s smallest components to building scientific capacity in Puerto Rico and Latin America.
In a building overlooking the ocean in Old San Juan, an eclectic group of people—young and old, women and men, citizens of many countries—are working to understand the structure and evolution of the universe. They have come together at Colegio de Física Fundamental e Interdisciplinaria de las Américas (College of Fundamental and Interdisciplinary Physics of the Americas).
"I got frustrated. I got excited. It made me think. It made me cry."
Whoever hears the student Hericka Loraine Cruz Luciano, would believe that she is describing her favorite movie, a play, or a famous novel, where emotions flow from the deepest sadness to the most euphoric joy with the speed of a thought.
She was, in fact, referring to her experience as a scientific researcher. The student is in the 12th grade at the Josefa Vélez Bauzá High School in the town of Peñuelas, where she has developed a multi-year project that has led her to conquer scientific skills in Puerto Rico and abroad.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, aggravating a decade-long fiscal crisis that had already weakened Puerto Rico’s educational, social, and economic infrastructure.
For the past year-and-a-half, Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR) has been hard at work on a new strategic direction to focus on an area of great need and of vital importance for the future of Puerto Rico: transforming science education to promote a culture of science, critical thinking and problem-solving.