Notable Puerto Ricans: Scientists

Puerto Rico celebrities are often known for their contributions to the arts, and Puerto Rico has produced many of America’s scientists as well. The list below shines a spotlight on just a few of the many notable scientists from Puerto Rico.

Vanessa Aponte Williams

NASA had 70 Puerto Rican scientists on staff in 2003, according to a report by Margarita Santori Lopez. Aponte Williams was one of them. She is currently the Human Spaceflight Exploration Lead of Advanced Programs for Lockheed Martin Space. She was twice selected as a finalist in the Astronaut Selection Interview process at NASA, but has spent her career as a systems engineer focusing on human spaceflight. Born and raised in Lajas, Aponte Williams received degrees in Chemical Engineering from UPR at Mayagüez and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from CU Boulder. 

 Juan Arturo Rivero Quintero

Rivero Quintero was a zoologist who discovered more than 100 species of animals. He founded the Juan Arturo Rivero Quintero Zoo and the Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico.  Born in Santurce, Rivero Quintero completed his undergraduate work at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and his graduate degrees at Harvard. He returned to his alma mater in Mayagüez and headed up the biology program, becoming the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences during his 65 years at the university. He also founded and led the Puerto Rico Zoological Society. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences.

Miguel Morales

Miguel Morales is a physicist studying materials at extreme pressures and temperatures. He credits his fascination with math and science to his experience after a hurricane. Having no electricity, Morales used the opportunity to read constantly. He first encountered stories about Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and this led to his Bachelor of Science degree in theoretical physics and mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. He earned his PhD at the University of Illinois. Morales was awarded the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers by President Barack Obama in 2014. He currently works on some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at Lawrence Livermore labs.

Ana Roqué de Duprey

Ana Roqué de Duprey, a botanist and educator at the turn of the 20th century, founded a college for women which became the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. She was born in Aguadilla and later moved to San Juan, where she was the first woman allowed to have a library card. Her interest in education was the focus of her activities, but she also composed music, wrote a number of books including Puerto Rican Flora and Botánica Antillana, The latter book describes more than 6,000 species of plants and includes her own illustrations. She also worked for voting rights for women in Puerto Rico and was an honorary member of the Paris Society of Astronomers.

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