This editorial is adapted from the introduction to C&EN’s “Hispanic and Latino Chemists You Should Know About” article.
The contraceptive pill has been hailed as world-changing as the wheel, the printing press, and the internal combustion engine. Since its discovery in the 1950s it has liberated millions of women around the world—socially, sexually, and economically
The birth control pill would not exist today without the work of Mexican chemical engineer Luis E. Miramontes. In 1951, Miramontes—a 26-year-old student at the time—synthesized norethindrone, the main component of the first effective contraceptive pill.
This collection commemorates National Hispanic Heritage Month—which started Sept. 15 in the US—and it highlights the lives and careers of influential historical figures of Hispanic and Latino descent whose work has shaped chemistry. This collection follows the format of compilations that C&EN has published recently emphasizing the contributions of Black and LGBTQ+ chemists.
A selection of chemists from this list will be featured in the 2023 issue of C&EN’s Trailblazers, which I’m glad to announce will focus on Hispanic and Latino excellence. (The 2022 issue of C&EN’s Trailblazers will be dedicated to LGBTQ+ chemists.)
We hope these figures inspire future generations of chemical scientists—and not just Hispanic and Latino ones.
An example is Mario Molina, the Mexican chemist who played a pivotal role in the discovery of the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer and who won a share of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on elucidating the mechanisms of the formation and decomposition of ozone in the stratosphere.
Other Nobelists you may not be familiar with include Argentine physician and biochemist Luis F. Leloir, who received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the metabolic pathways in sugars. César Milstein, also an Argentine biochemist, won a share of the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the chemistry of antibodies.
The list also comprises scientists like Rebeca Gerschman, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Chemistry but was never awarded one before she died. She discovered that free radicals can cause oxygen toxicity and cell death.
And we feature an element discoverer: Andrés Manuel del Río, the Spanish Mexican scientist who found vanadium in a piece of lead ore in 1801 but was not credited with the discovery at the time.
Ultimately, whether they are known or not, whether they’ve received accolades or not, these Hispanic and Latino scientists were trailblazing researchers, mentors, and educators that we should know about.
We will keep updating this collection of outstanding historical and recently deceased Hispanic and Latino chemists. Please share your nominees in this survey: cenm.ag/latinochemsurvey.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.