March 8 marks International Women’s Day, so it’s a great time to recognize the numerous achievements of Latinas in the the sciences and other fields. Women were thoroughly excluded from most scientific fields until the 20th century. Only in the past two generations barriers have fallen, albeit not completely.  Each of the 5 Latinas on this list have made it happen, despite the double burden of being women of color.   

Adriana Ocampo: Planetary Geologist At NASA

Born in Colombia, Adriana spent most of her youth in Argentina. Her family moved to the U.S. When she was 15. Her most celebrated research is the discovery of a historic Chicxulub crater. The 66-million-year old geological impression is more than 100 miles wide, half of it covering the Caribbean seafloor, and the other half depressing the landscape of the Yucatán Peninsula, in Mexico. Ocampo identified the crater along with a team of researchers 1996 using satellite imagery.

Lydia Villa-Komaroff: Molecular Cellular Biologist In The Private Sector

“Traditionally, Hispanic women are not socialized to believe they can earn a living, much less be a scientist,” Villa-Komaroff said in a profile by the American Association of University Women. She’s not only earned a living, but a place in history as a pioneering scientist of color. She’s most known for her post-doc, which advanced scientific understanding of insulin production. In 1976, she became the third Chicana in history to earn a doctorate in science, at MIT no less. A native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, she is now Chief Scientific Officer at Cytonome, a cell tech based in Boston.

France Anne-Dominic Córdova: Director Of The National Science Foundation (NSF)

Before earning her PhD in physics from CIT in 1978, Córdova had a deep understanding of her Mexican culture and heritage. As an English major at Stanford, she studied the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca. She later worked as a researcher at Los Alamos National Labs. Her most important contributions to science involve x-rays and gamma rays. A former president of Purdue University, she was confirmed by the Senate in 2014 to lead the NSF.

Antonia Novello: Former Surgeon General of the United States, UNICEF Rep. for Health and Nutrition

In 1990 Antonia Novello became the first woman and the first Hispanic American to be Surgeon General of the United States. An expert on pediatric care, she was one of the first to recognize the need for treating women and children at the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Born in the Puerto Rican village of Fajardo, Novello was wrought with colon-related complications as a child.She earned her M.D. at the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan, and eventually specialized in treating children with internal organ problems like the one she had.

Ellen Ochoa: First Latina In Space, Director Of Johnson Space Center

Ochoa flew in 4 NASA missions, spending more than 978 hours in weightlessness. Most of her missions related to servicing the International Space Station and conducting experiments. She holds a doctoral degree in engineering. In  2013 she became the second woman and first Latina to direct the Johnson Space Center. To see a video of Ochoa in space, as well as tips from current astronauta Latina Serena Maria Auñón on how to earn a spot in a rocket ship, check out our article NASA Latina astronauts: