Celebrating Hispanic Scientists

Across a wide range of disciplines, Hispanic scientists and engineers are at the forefront of U.S. research. In recognition of their efforts, and Hispanic Heritage Month, NSF profiles leaders in their fields.

José Almirall

Photo credit: José Almirall, Florida University

José R. Almirall is professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida International University and director of the NSF-funded Center for Advanced Research in Forensic Science (CARFS). He was a practicing forensic scientist for 12 years in Miami where he testified in over 100 criminal cases prior to his academic appointment at FIU in 1998. Professor Almirall has mentored more than 50 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in forensic chemistry research over the last two decades. His research group has received three patents based on air sampling devices designed to detect drugs and explosives in air, and he leads a scientific committee sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that aims to improve the standardization of forensic chemistry methods.

Francisco Córdova

Credit: R Correa, Arecibo Observatory

Francisco Córdova is the director of the Arecibo Observatory, home to the largest operational single dish radio telescope in the world. He leads a team of scientists and engineers performing cutting-edge research in astronomy, atmospheric sciences and planetary sciences, in what is one of the most unique facilities in the world. The NSF-funded facility is managed by the University of Central Florida and has been instrumental in advancing research on gravitational waves, space weather and planetary defense. Córdova’s leadership and experience in aerospace technology development has been critical for the facility, which has seen a resurgence under his leadership. With a new operational model and strategic vision, the Arecibo Observatory has diversified its funding sources and developed mission-based programs in the areas of ionospheric modification, tactical communications, space surveillance and informal STEM education. Córdova is the second Puerto Rican — and the youngest — to be Arecibo’s director in the facility’s 55-year-old history.

Gabriela González

Credit: LSU

Gabriela González works on the detection of gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time — with the LIGO observatories. The first detection was made in 2015 and caused by the merging of two black holes more than a billion years ago. Several more signals were detected since then, including from a merger of two neutron stars. However, the LIGO detectors took decades of hard work to build and make sensitive enough, and many people, including González, are working to make them more sensitive and see farther away — and farther in the past history of the Universe.

Gabriel P. López

Credit: Vanessa Tan, Office of the Vice President for Research, The University of New Mexico

An extensive interdisciplinary background in chemical and biomedical engineering, materials science, chemistry and technology transfer provides Gabriel López an excellent lens through which to understand and foster the broad mission of one of the nation’s premier minority research institutions. López became vice president for research at The University of New Mexico after being founding director of the NSF-funded Research Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Duke University. His passion for research, coupled with a career-long commitment to advancing Hispanics and Native Americans in academic STEM careers, drives him to advance his university’s research enterprise.

Carlos Murillo

Artistic rendition by Spanish artist Anna R. Falvello- Tomás of the creation of a molecule with a metal-metal bond. Painting gifted by the artist to Carlos A. Murillo, who is shown in the inset.

Born in Costa Rica but now a U.S. citizen, Carlos Murillo rose from humble origins to a full professorship at the University of Costa Rica. His teaching and research career continued at Texas A&M University, after which he became an NSF program director. For the past 10 years, he has managed the chemistry instrumentation program at NSF. Having published two books and over 300 research papers (50 during his NSF tenure), his research has focused on compounds with multiple bonds between metal atoms. A major achievement was the designed synthesis of the stable compound with the lowest-known ionization energy, a strong and useful reducing agent. As a nine-year cancer survivor, he is now collaborating with a medical team in Baltimore on unraveling dietetic riddles aiding patient recovery after major gastrointestinal cancer surgeries.

Andrea Nahmod

Credit: John Solem, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Andrea R. Nahmod, a mathematician at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studies how waves — a specialized area of physics — function and behave. She specializes in nonlinear Fourier and harmonic analysis, which translate wave functions into mathematical approximations, and the theory of partial differential equations to model how waves spread and interact as they evolve in time.

There are a myriad of fascinating questions to be explored in new and exciting directions at the forefront of nonlinear wave phenomena. Nahmod likes approaching a problem in new ways, to move the problem forward in a different fashion.

Carlos Ordonez

Carlos Ordonez, Department of Physics, University of North Texas

Studies directed by Carlos Ordonez at the University of North Texas aim to advance our understanding of antimatter by exploring high-risk, high-payoff alternatives to the methods currently used. Antimatter is a substance similar to matter, which is what the universe is made of. The study of antimatter may lead scientists to answer some of the fundamental, unresolved questions in physics.

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz

Credit: Elena Zhukova, UCSC

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz is a theoretical astrophysicist whose research combines many areas of physics, including gas dynamics, plasma physics, radiative transfer and nuclear physics. He has made important contributions to the theory of tides and mass transport in compact binary systems. His work has enabled calculations of novel gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals. He has also contributed to issues in nuclear astrophysics, such as helping to uncover the astrophysical origin of heavy elements. As the director of the NSF-funded Lamat Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, which gives undergraduate students the opportunity to work with faculty and graduate students on computational astrophysics projects, Ramirez-Ruiz works vigorously to support the promotion and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.