Puerto Rico is well known, globally, as a leader in biosciences. This is mostly due because we train and educate professionals of the highest caliber in these disciplines. For this, we have to thank Dr. Graciela Candelas, a professor and pioneer researcher who revolutionized biology education in Puerto Rico.
Graciela Candelas was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico in 1922. She received motivation to study sciences from her father, Teobaldo Casanova, a statistical psychologist. He encouraged Graciela and her sisters to pursue careers in science because “they could learn the humanities at home”.
Becoming a pioneer
Graciela obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras (UPRRP) in 1944. Her career in academia started in 1951 as an instructor at the Department of Biology at UPRRP. During that time, she worked as director of the Marine Laboratory, known today as Department of Marine Sciences (DMS), and in 1956 she taught, for the first time in Puerto Rico, a marine biology course at La Parguera, Lajas.
Shortly after, Graciela moved to North Carolina, where her husband, Dr. Gustavo Candelas, was working as a professor. In 1957 she started her master’s degree at Duke University. She studied marine biology, specifically, the effects of salinity and seasonality on marine sponges Hymeniacidon heliophila. She demonstrated that low temperatures, and the interaction of winter algal flora regulated the distribution of H. heliophila. Her work was published in the scientific journals Ecology and in th prestigious Nature.