Science and Engineering in Puerto Rico

In 1581, Ponce de Leon II took observations of an eclipse in San Juan and determined the latitude and longitude from his data. Puerto Rico is still providing scientists and engineers to the Island, the United States, and the world.

The Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is one of the largest telescopes in the world, and has been instrumental in numerous discoveries. The University of Puerto Rico is one of the most important locations in the Caribbean for scientific research.

NASA and space exploration have benefited from Puerto Rico’s educated population. Of the 115 Hispanic employees at NASA in 2003, 70 were from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent. Joseph M. Acaba was the first Puerto Rican astronaut, and Lissette Martínez is the lead electrical engineer for the Space Experiment Module program at NASA’s Goddard Flight Facility. Nitza Margarita Cintron is the Chief of Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Orlando Figueroa received the 2005 Service to America Medal and was the Director of Solar System Exploration and Mars Exploration. This is just a handful of the Puerto Rican scientists and engineers in the aerospace field.

The Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust is a new initiative of the Department of Commerce. The program relies on researchers and entrepreneurs to work on projects relating to clean drinking water, the growing information economy, and public health issues such as these:

  • Emergency Preparedness, Recovery and Response
  • Chronic Disease: diabetes, obesity, etc.
  • Health Equity
  • Climate change
  • Mental Health
  • Opioid Epidemic

A list of individual scientists and engineers from Puerto Rico would be too long for this article, but we want to share one particular scientist’s experience, as reported in his blog.

BaldScientist is a Puerto Rican scientist living in Pennsylvania. He writes a blog examining all kinds of science questions, and he also has a post of Frequently Asked Questions. You can tell he’s tired of answering these questions, but people still need answers. Here’s an excerpt:

*Yes, I am Puerto Rican. No, my looks are not uncommon in PR. We come in all colors.

*American citizen. Since birth, as all Puerto Ricans are; just like Texans, Alaskans, New Yorkers, etc. PR’s been a US territory since 1898.

*Yes, I got my education all the way up to my master’s degree in Puerto Rico. Yes, there are doctoral programs in PR, very good ones too. I simply chose to come to the mainland.

*Yes, my PR education was perfectly adequate to prepare me for graduate school in the mainland (I have a Cornell PhD if you must know…).

*Yes, Spanish is my first language. No, English is not a language barrier for me; I am fully bilingual. Graduate school in the US would have been quite difficult if I did not have at least a working command of English, don’t you think?

Sound familiar?

It’s important to answer these questions, as kindly and patiently as possible, because people who understand that Puerto Ricans are Americans, U.S. citizens, and part of the USA are more likely to support statehood. For those Americans who don’t realize that Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States, “Should Puerto Rico be admitted as a state?” sounds a lot like, “Should Cuba be admitted as a state?” or “Should Greenland be admitted as a state?”.

People who know that Puerto Rico belongs to the United States feel differently. In fact, two thirds of Americans told a recent Gallup sure ey that they favored statehood for Puerto Rico. Let your Congressperson know that you want them to say yes to Puerto Rico!

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