Celebrating Hispanic Physicists

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Photos of the Month - September 2018

Audrey Lengel, Photo Archivist

“I wondered whether or not there was just something different in the way that people were put together that made certain nationalities better for physicists. It really does affect a young person thinking about being a physicist if they see no one of their nationality or ethnicity who is actually a functioning physicist.”

This quote, from physicist Carlos Gutierrez, demonstrates just how important representation in physics is to students, and even children, who are interested in the field. As we’ve explored throughout the year, the history of representation in physics plays a vital role in proving to current and future generations that they, too, can be a successful physicist, just as those before them have been. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (which spans from September 15 – October 15), we’re highlighting a number of photos of prominent Hispanic physicists including Carlos Gutierrez, France Córdova, and Albert Baez.

From early June to mid-August, we hosted three history-focused interns through the SPS Internship program. One of these interns, Stephanie Williams, created a new set of K-12 Teaching Guides focused on educating students about key current and historic Hispanic Americans in physics. Some of this month’s photos are of physicists featured in these guides, so for more in-depth information, I highly recommend checking out the Introduction sections of the teaching guides, which are full of biographical information.

Asteroid Impact Research Team

Helen Michel, Frank Asaro, and Walter and Luis Alvarez, the team from Berkeley Lab who first theorized that an asteroid brought on the extinction of dinosaurs. Luis Alvarez, 1968 Nobel Laureate in Physics for his work on particle physics (and first Hispanic-American to win a Nobel Prize in Physics), and his son, Walter, a geologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, are descendants of Luis F. Alvarez, a Spanish-born doctor.

Credit line: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, gift of Peter Trower

Portrait of Albert Baez, physicist who was born in Puebla, Mexico and moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. Later in his career, he worked with UNESCO to develop both biology and physics programs at Baghdad University, and worked in science activism, opposing nuclear stockpiling and serving as the president of Vivamos Mejor North America, a science education organization in Latin America.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Victor Blanco, Puerto Rican astronomer and 2nd Director of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, at Kitt Peak National Laboratory in Tucson, AZ, 1969.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, John Irwin Slide Collection

Astrophysicist France Córdova, is the current director of the National Science Foundation. She was the youngest and first woman to serve as a Chief NASA Scientist and received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1996.

Credit line: Photograph by Bill Ingalls, NASA, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

Portrait of Gutierrez

Carlos Gutierrez, who was initially inspired to study astronomy after hearing Aztec folktales as a child, is a professor and researcher at Texas State University, San Marcos. He is passionate about encouraging Hispanic students to enter the physics field and mentors students as an advisor to the Society of Mexican-American Engineers and Scientists.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

Ramon Lopez at the University of Illinois during a workshop for physics teachers, 1996. Lopez, the 2010 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Distinguished Scientist Award recipient also served as the Director of Outreach and Education at APS from 1994-1999.

Credit line: Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives