17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world

From the first electrical submarine to transdermal medical patches, you can thank Hispanic inventors for these incredibly important innovations.
Christopher McFadden
great-hispanic-inventions.jpg
  • Hispanics are among the most widely dispersed and diverse ethnicities in the world.
  • Hispanic inventors have made considerable contributions to science and technology throughout the ages.
  • Here are a select few of some of the most notable.

In the spirit of "Hispanic Heritage Month," we at IE thought it might be nice to collate some of the greatest inventors and scientists from the diverse and talented wider Hispanic community. So, here are just a few of the many Hispanic creative minds who have made some of the most significant contributions to the modern world.

Enjoy.

What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Between the 15th of September and the 15th of October every year, Americans celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the histories, cultures, and accomplishments of Americans who have ancestors from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

President Lyndon Johnson established the celebration in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. President Ronald Reagan expanded it in 1988 to a 30-day period beginning on September 15 and concluding on October 15. It became law on August 17, 1988, after Public Law 100-402 was approved.

The 15th of September is noteworthy because it marks the anniversaries of the independence of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Guatemala.

Additionally, on September 16 and September 18, respectively, Mexico and Chile commemorate their respective independence days. Additionally, the date of October 12 — also known as Columbus Day or Da de la Raza — falls inside this 30-day window.

However, it is essential to note that the term "Hispanic" is very nebulous, with many interpretations, including conflicting official definitions from the U.S. Census and other "official" sources. However, we'll use the official U.S. Census definition for this compilation of inventors, with no distinction made between U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens.

"Hispanic or Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. This includes people who reported detailed Hispanic or Latino groups."

So, with that out of the way, in homage to this month of Hispanic heritage and pride, we have honored some of the many noteworthy Hispanic inventors and engineers.

Who are some famous Hispanic inventors?

And so, on to the main event. The following are some of the most notable and important Hispanic inventors.

Needless to say, this list is in no particular order and is not exhaustive.

1. Guillermo González Camarena invented an early color TV transmission system

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Guillermo González Camarena.

Nationality: Mexican

Guillermo González Camarena (1917-1965), an electrical engineer by trade, invented a chromoscopic converter in 1940 at the age of 23. This device allowed color to be captured by the black and white cameras of the time. For his invention, Camarena became the first person in history to receive a patent for the development of a color television (U.S. Patent 2,296,019). He also filed for additional patents for color television systems in 1960 and 1962.

As late as 1979, NASA transmitted photos from Jupiter using his invention.

Additionally, he promoted the use of TVs to broadcast educational shows to Mexicans living in rural areas with high rates of illiteracy. He also supported tele-education for students attending medical school.

González Camarena transmitted in color for the first time on August 31, 1946, from his lab at the Mexican League of Radio Experiments, located at Lucerna St. #1 in Mexico City. The audio and video signals were sent in the 40-meter band at 115 MHz.

On February 8, 1963, he was permitted to transmit Paraso Infantil on the station he founded in Mexico City, XHGC-TV, the country's first officially announced color broadcast. At that point, the government approved the NTSC television color standard.

On April 18, 1965 (at the age of 48), he was killed in an automobile accident in Puebla while traveling back from Las Lajas, Veracruz, where he had been examining a television transmitter.

2. You can thank Luis von Ahn for those annoying CAPTCHA boxes (and also Duolingo)

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Luis Von Ahn in 2015.

Nationality: Guatemalan

Guatemalan-born Luis von Ahn created the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA systems for cyber security. To help prevent spam bots from accessing computer systems, CAPTCHA (standing for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart") is a randomly produced challenge-response test.

The cyber-security technique was established in 2000 while Von Ahn was a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University. Because Yahoo was struggling with automated spammers, he donated the technology to the company without charge. The system's upgraded version, reCAPTCHA, is now used by almost all web servers.

Von Ahn is also a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the language-learning software Duolingo and a consulting professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

3. Julio Palmaz invented the stent!

Nationality: Argentinian

Julio Palmaz, a vascular radiologist from Argentina, is credited with advancing the field of angioplasty surgery. This procedure helps clear blocked blood vessels and improves blood flow to the heart.

In order to keep heart arteries open after an angioplasty, Palmaz created a balloon-expandable stent in collaboration with physician Richard Schatz. The Palmaz-Schatz Stent was given a patent, Johnson & Johnson, a healthcare provider, provided funding, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it.

Palmaz was admitted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

4. Albert Vinicio Báez coinvented the X-Ray reflection microscope

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Albert Vinicio Baez.

Nationality: Mexican-American

The X-ray reflection microscope was created in 1948 by Paul Kirkpatrick, a Stanford physics professor, and Mexican-American physicist Albert Vinicio Báez (1912-2007).

Báez is also the father of renowned folk singer Joan Baez. Báez worked for and lectured for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Kirkpatrick-Báez X-ray reflection microscope uses X-rays to enlarge images of small or far-off objects. The tool has been applied to the study of such diverse objects as galaxies and live cells. The field of X-ray optics was greatly expanded after its invention.

Báez died of natural causes on the 20th of March 2007 in Redwood City, California. In addition to being a noted physicist, he was also a passionate humanitarian and educator.

5. Luis Miramontes developed the contraceptive pill

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Luis E Miramontes.

Nationality: Mexican

When his team developed the progestin norethisterone used in one of the first three oral contraceptives in 1951, Mexican chemist Luis Miramontes (1925-2004) was only 26 years old and a doctoral student working in the lab of Carl Djerassi and George Rosenkranzin's at Syntex SA in Mexico City. The creation of norethindrone, a compound obtained from the tortoise plant (dioscorea Mexicana), a wild Mexican yam, was essential to the idea.

The primary active component of one of the first birth control pills, which Syntex Laboratories, Inc. later branded as Norinyl, was norethindrone. Contrary to popular belief, the norethindrone version of the first birth control pill (Enovid-10) that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in 1960 was created by a rival.

However, the norethindrone version developed by Miramontes' team was approved shortly after and has since become an industry standard.

6. Arturo Arias Suárez's invention helps detect earthquakes

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Arturo Arias Suárez.

Nationality: Chilean

Professor Arturo Arias Suárez (1923-2003), a civil engineer who taught at the University of Chile, developed a method that made it possible for scientists to calculate the likelihood of damage from a potential earthquake in a specific area.

From 1958 to 1965, Arias Suárez was the director of Chile's Instituto de Investigación y Ensayos de Materiales (IDIEM, or Materials Research and Testing Institute).

He created the "Instrumental Seismic Intensity" or "Arias Intensity" (AI) method in 1970. This mathematical formula analyzes earthquake tremors' magnitude by analyzing their seismic waves.

Building engineers can design structures that are better able to resist seismic activity using the Arias Intensity Formula.

Arias later taught seismic engineering at MIT while serving as a visiting professor in 1969. For "involuntary reasons" following the military takeover of Chile in 1973, he temporarily moved from Chile to Mexico.

Between 1976 and 1983, he conducted research and taught at the Engineering Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He then went back to the University of Chile in the 1980s. He spent time in both nations during the following years until passing away in Chile in 2003.

7. Santo Liotta invented an artificial heart

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Domingo Liotta.

Nationality: Argentinian

Domingo Santo Liotta was born in Argentina in 1924 to Italian immigrants and went on to become a heart surgery pioneer.

He would later make history by developing the first total artificial heart to be successfully implanted in a human in 1969. Liotta's device was implanted in a 47-year-old patient with severe heart failure.

His groundbreaking invention allowed the patient to live for three days until a heart from a human donor became available.

Liotta belonged to several international medical associations throughout his life. He also owned several patents in the USA, Argentina, and France.

Liotta was the author of numerous scientific articles and books, including volumes on medical humanism written in both English and Spanish. While serving as Secretary of Health, he traveled to China and Israel, where he signed agreements with President Ephraim Katzir and Premier Chou En-lai.

At the ripe old age of 97, Liotta passed away on the 31st of August, 2022.

8. Ellen Ochoa was an astronaut and an inventor

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Ellen Ochoa.

Nationality: Mexican-American

According to the Smithsonian Institution, Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman astronaut. She participated in four NASA missions and spent 978 hours in space.

She also contributed to creating three patents in the field of optics. NASA uses her innovations to process data gathered during missions to this very day.

Before Ochoa was born, her family, originally from Mexico, relocated to California, where she was born and raised. Ellen studied physics at San Diego State University.

She first became interested in optics while a fellowship student at Stanford University. There, she created three inventions that improved the speed and effectiveness of how computers handle information.

From 2013 until 2018, Dr. Ochoa served as the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

9. Claudio Castillón Lévano developed an improved baby incubator

Nationality: Peruvian

Claudio Castillón Lévano, an engineer from Peru, developed a portable incubator and respirator for premature infants. High-risk infants delivered before full-term gestation can benefit from this discovery by living longer in neonatal intensive care (NICU).

After more than 20 years of study and labor by Lévano and his colleagues, the United States granted Lévano's patent.

According to the U.S. Patent Office, Claudio Castillón Lévano was granted U.S. Patent 6,884,211 for a "Neonatal Artificial Bubble" that improves the intensive care of high-risk newborns.

Although Lévano's invention, the Incuven, regulates temperature and lowers the risk of infection for infants, it was not the first ever developed.

That honor for the earliest incubator ever developed goes to a device created in 1800s France.

10. Victor Ochoa invented an early form of electrical brakes

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Victor Ochoa with his folding wing plane (wings folded), circa 1933.

Nationality: Mexican-American

Victor Ochoa, who was born in Ojinaga, Mexico, in 1850, created an early form of electric streetcar brakes. He would later, in 1907, sell the invention to the Seattle-based American Brake Company.

Ochoa also developed the adjustable wrench and the Ochoaplane (an aircraft with foldable wings).

He is also credited with developing clips for pencils and pens, which enable them to fit into shirt pockets. Ochoa was not just an inventor but also a fervent supporter of the Mexican Revolution, which allegedly attracted a $50,000 bounty to be placed on his head.

A former captain in the Mexican Federal Army, he also served two years in jail and lost his U.S. citizenship for “organizing an army in the United States for the purpose of invading Mexico.” After his release, President Theodore Roosevelt restored his citizenship by a special proclamation in 1906.

11. An early mechanical book was invented by Ángela Ruiz Robles

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Artist's portrait of Ángela Ruiz Robles.

Nationality: Spanish

Angela Ruiz Robles (1895-1975) was a pioneer and inventor of the mechanical forerunner of the electronic book. Her mechanical book was created decades before Michael Hart's Project Gutenberg and is often referred to as the true inventor of the modern e-book.

Called the "Enciclopedia Mecánica" (“Mechanical Encyclopedia”), she received several patents for the device.

Ruiz received a Spanish patent number of 190,698 in 1949 for devices with buttons that displayed the lesson materials when pressed and engaged. In her second patent, 276,364, granted in 1962, she changed the design by eliminating the buttons and replacing them with rotating reels that displayed the topics and study materials.

Ruiz Robles was a dedicated teacher and educator who began her career at a time when only 25% of the female population knew how to read and write. She created the mechanical encyclopedia to reduce the weight of the books that her students had to carry, make studying more appealing, and customize the learning materials to meet the needs of each individual student.

Her tool included spoken descriptions of each topic and comprised a sequence of text and drawings on reels, all arranged under a magnifying glass sheet with a light for reading in the dark. A prototype of her invention is exhibited at the National Museum of Science and Technology in A Coruña, even though it was never produced.

12. The Beautyblender was invented by Rea Ann Silva

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Rea Ann Silva and her now famous invention.

Nationality: Mexican/American

Rea Ann Silva was raised in Los Angeles, California, and studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

She would later spend many years working as a makeup artist for musicians like Dr. Dre, Eve, Tupac, and Brandi, among others, during her time at MTV.

Before developing the "BeautyBlender," Silva also worked on the sets of films, including "Friday" (1995), "Money Talks"(1997), and "Idle Hands"(1999), as well as television programs like "Girlfriends" and "Moesha."

The Beauty blender was developed to save performers from having to be pulled off the set when using an airbrush to apply foundation mid-shoot. Due to the sponge's practicality, Silva developed a basic prototype.

Later, in 2002, Silva was able to capitalize on the product and develop a commercial product that would earn her numerous honors and propel her business to the top of the cosmetics sector.

13. Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García created the laryngoscope

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Manuel García at the age of 100.

Nationality: Spanish

Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García (1805-1906) was born on the 17th of March, 1805, in either Zafra in the Badajoz Province of Spain or Madrid.

The son of a renowned singer and educator, García eventually took work as a baritone singer. He stopped performing on stage at a young age and started giving lessons at the Paris Conservatory in the 1830s and the Royal Academy of Music in London from the 1840s onwards.

In 1830, he became a military doctor and became curious about vocal anatomy. He is most famous today for his invention of an early laryngoscope in 1854. The following year he also published observations of his larynx and vocal cords made with a small dental mirror introduced into the throat and using sunlight reflected by another mirror, becoming the first person to study human vocal folds in action.

His invention became famous in its day when opera singer Jenny Lind, who had had vocal damage from overuse in her early 20s, gave him credit for rescuing her career, thanks in part to García's groundbreaking device.

Garcia did not foresee the significance of laryngoscopy for medicine; instead, he was concerned about the movements associated with the development of the singing voice. Nevertheless, the University of Königsberg later awarded him an honorary M.D. García retired from the Royal Academy of Music in 1895 at the age of 90.

At the age of 100, he was received at Buckingham Palace by King Edward VII. He continued to study and teach privately until his death in London in July of 1906 at the age of 101.

He was laid to rest on the grounds of the St. Edward's Catholic Church in Sutton Green, Surrey. Details about his numerous outstanding pupils and accomplishments are recorded on his headstone.

14. Dr. Jose Hernandez-Rebollar's invention has helped countless people who are hard-of-hearing

Nationality: Mexican

Dr. Jose Hernandez-Rebollar was born in Puebla, Mexico, on the 14th of July, 1969. He is best known as the creator of an electrical glove called the "AcceleGlove," which converts American Sign Language hand gestures into spoken and written words.

He graduated from the University of Puebla with a BSc and an MSc and moved to the U.S. in 1998 after he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to attend George Washington University in Washington, DC.

His field is electrical engineering, and the sensor-studded glove was his doctoral engineering project. The AcceleGlove contains sensors that work with a micro-controller attached to the wearer's arm and maps the movement of the arm and fingers. The information is turned into data that a computer converts into words on a speaker or into text on a screen.

15. Isaac Peral y Caballero invented an early electrical submarine

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Isaac_Peral_(Ayuntamiento_de_Cartagena).jpg

Nationality: Spanish

Spanish engineer and naval officer Isaac Peral y Caballero (1851-1895) is credited with creating an early electrical-powered submarine, the "Peral Submarine."

After spending his early years in Spain, he enlisted in the Spanish navy in 1866. On September 20, 1884, after years in the Navy, Peral first had the idea for his "Proyecto de Torpedero Submarino" ("Project for a submarine torpedo-boat"), which he wrote about in a paper.

Peral presented his idea to the Spanish navy staff after conducting various investigations and experiments and receiving approval from his superiors and fellow officers. Vice-admiral Pezuela y Lobo, the minister of the Spanish navy, received a letter from him in September 1885.

Peral was called to Madrid by Pezuela y Lobo for a one-on-one interview. Following the interview, Pezuela y Lobo agreed to support Peral's initial research in Cádiz with a 5,000 peseta budget before starting a project to construct a full-scale submarine boat.

Soon after, the first working prototype of an electrical submarine was created. And, on the 8th of September, 1888, it was launched.

Later, in a test with naval officials, it simulated an attack on a cruiser at night without being spotted and safely returned to port. As impressive as this was, the submarine's absence of a double hull and a diesel engine only limited its use to coastal actions.

A decade later, other submarine designs struggled to match its performance, and the Spanish Navy eventually retired the project.

Peral was becoming impatient and felt he was losing control of his invention. So, he famously gutted the submarine's interior and destroyed plans to prevent the technology from falling into foreign nations' hands.

16. Humberto Fernandez Morán made significant contributions to science

Nationality: Venezuelan

Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on the 18th of February, 1924, Humberto Fernández-Morán Villalobos was a Venezuelan research scientist who made numerous significant scientific contributions. Chief among them was the invention of the diamond knife or scalpel and a significant advancement in the creation of electromagnetic lenses for electron microscopy based on superconducting technology.

He also founded the Venezuelan Institute for Neurological and Brain Studies, the predecessor of the current Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC).

He studied medicine at the University of Munich, where he received his summa cum laude in 1944.

He was the first to employ the idea of cryo-ultramicrotomy, which is used to section vitrified biological samples, and contributed to the electron microscope. Allegedly, the idea of the naturally occurring flow system in a waterfall led him to take his diamond scalpel invention and combine it with an ultramicrotome to significantly improve the ultra-thin sectioning of electron microscopy samples.

Among many other scientific areas, he contributed to the development of electron cryomicroscopy, which uses superconductive electromagnetic lenses in electron microscopes to attain the highest resolution conceivable.

The first nuclear research reactor in Venezuela, the RV-1, one of the first in all of Latin America, was put into operation under the direction of Fernández-Morán in 1957.

He was made Minister of Science in the final year of the Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship and was forced to flee Venezuela in 1958 when the regime was abolished. He participated in the Apollo Project with NASA and taught at numerous institutions, including MIT, the University of Chicago, and the University of Stockholm.

In 1986, he gave the National Library of Medicine a collection of his papers. He died in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1999 at the age of 75.

17. Alejandro Zaffaroni invented drug administering bandages

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Alejandro Zaffaroni

Nationality: Uruguayan/American

Alejandro Zaffaroni (1923-2014) was a biotechnology pioneer. His early work with controlled drug delivery techniques, particularly his early thoughts on transdermal patches, sparked an increase in a study into innovative drug delivery systems.

To develop his concepts for controlled medication delivery systems, Zaffaroni established the ALZA Corporation in 1968. His earliest inventions at ALZA comprised a progesterone-releasing contraceptive and a thin film for treating glaucoma.

In the 1970s, Zaffaroni was granted patents for transdermal systemic medication delivery. In 1981, ALZA collaborated with the Swiss business Ciba-Geigy, and the FDA approved the first scopolamine transdermal delivery system for motion sickness, Transderm-Scop®. Transderm-Nitro® was soon after approved for angina.

17 greatest Hispanic inventors that dramatically transformed the world
Example of a trandermal patch.

Ultimately, ALZA launched more than 20 prescription medications before being bought by Johnson & Johnson.

More than 40 transdermal products with ingredients like nicotine, hormones, painkillers, and antidepressants have received FDA approval. The most recent biotech business formed by Zaffaroni is Alexza Pharmaceuticals. Uruguayan-born Zaffaroni moved to the United States to pursue his doctoral degree at the University of Rochester.

In 1995, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and has also been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

And that is your lot for today.

Like all other human ethnicities, Hispanics have their fair share of great minds and inventors. The above are but a small yet significant selection of the many Hispanic people making great strides in various aspects of human life.

We salute you all!

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