September gives us plenty of reasons to celebrate. The kids are back in school and summer’s heat is fading. Plus, it’s time to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and honor the culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
This celebration started as a week-long event in 1968 and was expanded to its current month-long duration by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Today, there are so many ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month! You could hone your cooking skills by inviting family and friends over for a Hispanic-inspired dinner party, host a Spanish movie night, or attend a local event put on by a Hispanic organization.
On top of the usual festivities, we’re giving extra recognition to often overlooked Hispanic inventors whose contributions have benefited communities around the world.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman astronaut. She went on four missions with NASA, spending 978 hours in outer space. She also added co-inventor to her resume when she helped develop three patents in the field of optics. Her inventions now help NASA process information collected on missions.
Ochoa’s family is originally from Mexico, but they moved to California before she was born. Ellen grew up in the Golden State and attended San Diego State University for a degree in Physics.
Her fascination with the field of optics came during her time as a fellowship student at Stanford University. There she developed three optics-related patents, which help computers process information more quickly and efficiently.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, from 2013-2018, Dr. Ochoa worked as the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.
Luis von Ahn
Guatemalan-born Luis von Ahn is regarded as one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing. However, he is most well-known for two significant contributions to modern technology—the reCAPTCHA system and Duolingo.
You may not know what reCAPTCHA is, but you see it almost every time you sign into a new website. It’s those “I am not a robot” checkboxes and distorted text images that you have to complete before accessing certain pages. Though annoying at times, reCAPTCHA helps computers differentiate between robots and human beings, keeping internet users safe from malware and spam.
Luis von Ahn is also the co-founder of Duolingo, a completely free app that has caused major buzz among those wanting to learn another language. The app provides free language education covering 33 languages and serving about 300 million users worldwide according to NBC News.
Raised in Guatemala, Ahn received his bachelor’s degree from Duke University and obtained his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He recently won the prestigious Lemelson-MIT prize and currently works full-time as the CEO of Duolingo.
Rounding out our list of famous Hispanic inventors is Argentinian-born Dr. Domingo Liotta, a man regarded as a pioneer in the medical community. Liotta is not only a gifted heart surgeon, but he’s also responsible for creating the first artificial heart used in a human being!
Dr. Liotta developed the organ in 1969 at a hospital in Houston, Texas. According to the National Museum of American History, it was implanted in a patient while they waited for a real human heart to be available for transplant. The recipient lived for 64 hours with the artificial heart before receiving a real one. This procedure proved to be a viable option as a bridge to cardiac transplantation.
Dr. Liotta graduated from the National University of Cordoba in Argentina where he received his doctorate in Medicine and Surgery. Before being hired at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas as Director of the Artificial Heart Program, he worked in Lyon, France. Currently, he is the Dean of the School of Medicine, at the University of Morón in Argentina.
Famous Hispanic people and inventors help us carry on Hispanic Heritage Month with pride and teach future generations about their culture and its contributions. Do you have a favorite Hispanic inventor of your own? Mention their names and achievements below to share with the Direct Auto community!