Saturday, May 13, 2006

Science In Mexico

I have been trying to write an entry about science awareness in the country but for some reason I have not been able to finish it. One of the points I try to emphasize is that despite most people knows the quacks like Jaime Maussan or Carlos Trejo (the first one is known worldwide for a series of ufo related scams, and the former claims to have detected ghosts making him a clear candidate to join the faculty of a new degree offered by Coventry University), few of them can name a mexican scientist and the general idea of the people here is that Mexico hasn't made any contribution to science.

My humble contribution to remedy this consists in offering you the following facts about science done by mexican scientists:

  • Vanadium was discovered in Mexico by Andrés Manuel del Río.
  • The first oral contraceptive (norethindrone) was invented in Mexico by Luis E. Miramontes, Carl Djerassi and George Rosenkranz of the mexicam company Syntex. In 2004, the invention of Luis E. Miramontes was chosen as the twentieth most important one of all the times. The election was organized by SCENTA, an initiative of The Engineering and Technology Board of the United Kingdom.
  • Mario Molina (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1995) discovered the role of CFCs in the depletion of the ozone layer.
  • Guillermo Haro discovered the Herbig-Haro objects, he and his coworkers discovered flare stars, paving the way for the theory of star formation. The three color technique for Schmidt plates developed in Tonantzintla turned to be crucial in the detection of quasars. The work of Guillermo Haro and colleagues paved the way for making astronomy the strongest science in Mexico.
  • Microquasars were discovered by Luis Félipe Rodríguez in collaboration with the argentinian astronomer Félix Mirabel.
  • The famous Alcubierre warp drive a theoretical (don't expect any faster than light ship to be constructed) mechanism of superluminal speed is the work of Miguel Alcubierre.
  • Marcos Moshinsky's work (the transformation parenthesis for functions of harmonic oscillation) was fundamental to the study of nuclear structures.
  • The theory (and observations) of star formation has received crucial contributions by mexican astronomers like Jorge Cantó, Susana Lizano and Arcadio Poveda.
  • Carlos Frenk (the second most cited scientist in Europe) is mexican and has made crucial contributions to cosmology, particullary in the issue of structure formation
  • Guillermo Gonzalez Camerena patented the mechanism for the first color TV (consider the number of hours you have enjoyed this invention).
  • Manuel Sandoval Vallarta pioneered the efforts to understand cosmic rays, showing clearly that the rays were composed by charged particles (and not gamma rays as tought at that time) attracted by the Earth's magnetic field (this is known as the Lemaître-Vallarta theory). An experimental group in Mexico city lead by Luis W. Alvarez carried a series of experiments proposed by Vallarta, showing that cosmic rays are mostly composed by protons and showed the east-west effect.
  • Antonio Lazcano, the author of the best-seller The Origin of Life is a world leader on the study of the emergence of life and one of the pioneers of astrobiology.
  • Do you know that Jacob Bekenstein (the first to suggest the entropy of black holes) is mexican?
There are still more contributions for which I don't have time to put in this post. I hope this survey of mexican science helps a bit to change the vision of many people, this people certainly deserves more recognition from the society. With such an scarce founding (this has been even worse recently with the adminstration of Vicente Fox who simply doesn't understand the importance of science in the development of the nation) the work of this scientists is even more noteworthy.


Anonymous said...

Informative article.
You probably must include Manuel Peimbert
and the contribution to the use of
chemical elementes as a tool to
study the origin and evolution of
the universe.

Luis Sanchez said...

Sure, Peimbert is one of the most important figures in mexican astronomy (he even was the vicepresident of the IAU), I should also add to this list José Franco who has done important contributions to star formation and theory of the interstellar medium.

Anonymous said...

Ni un solo biologo en la lista, que hay de antonio lazcano por nombrar uno

Luis Sanchez said...

Tienes un buen punto. Dejame corregir eso!