Twenty years ago, I built a home for my family in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Because we are in a high desert region and in a very rural area, I had to dig a well. Rather than use new technology, I decided to turn to history for help. I incorporated an ancient technique called the Archimedesí Screw to draw up water from the ground for my house. It is said that the legendary Greek inventor and mathematician Archimedes invented the device in order to remove water from the hold of a large ship. I also designed the house to use the sun to heat the well water for our everyday needs.† All of our power also came from the sun by using solar cells to change the sunís energy into electricity and store it in batteries for later use.† I love my New Mexican house and the sense of home it provides for me and my family.
As a kid, I was curious about everything. I enjoyed doing projects with my hands, like taking radios and other electrical items apart, seeing how they worked, and then rebuilding them. I found that by fixing electrical items such as radios and TV sets, I could really learn about them. (I donít recommend doing some of the things I did, like accidentally blowing up batteries, but building stereos was really exciting!)
Because I enjoyed repairing electrical objects, I always thought Iíd become an electrician. With the money I earned through the small jobs I had as a youth, I paid for a home study course (similar to what today would be considered an online class) in electronics. Little did I know that my love of building and fixing electrical items would eventually lead to my career in physics. Physics is a natural science (like chemistry and biology) that deals with the physical properties and composition of matter and energy.† I eventually studied the physics of crystals and how their surfaces are different from their interior structures. I studied them by bombarding the crystals with high energy X-rays. Growing up in an East Los Angeles barrio with my Mexican-immigrant parents and two sisters, I never dreamed that I would end up with a Ph.D. in physics.
After graduate school at the University of Missouri, I got a teaching position at New Mexico Highlands University. Although I had thought I would eventually return to California, I ended up loving the community in New Mexico. I felt at home there and decided that this was where I wanted to stay.† 34 years later, I am still here!† Not only did I enjoy building a sense of community among the townspeople and my students, I also ventured out and started becoming associated with fellow Hispanic and Native American scientists and students throughout the country. I was excited to be part of a national effort to increase the number of fellow Hispanic and Native American students and scientists in physics and other areas of science and mathematics.
My work included being one of the founders of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) in the early 1970s. I also spent over 15 years as Director of the Summer Science Program for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Program. In this program I recruited high school and young university students, particularly minorities, from all over the country.† These students spent the summer working with different science and engineering groups learning what research really looks like in the real world. Moreover, for the last 20 years I have worked with rural Hispanic and Native American communities to help improve the mathematics and sciences offered in their schools and have seen many students realize that they can have a future in science and mathematics.
Whether itís building a stereo, a house, or a sense of belonging among your students and scientific communities, it takes a lot of time, hard work, and commitment. But the sense of completion at the sight of something youíve made is very fulfilling; and so is helping make the scientific world aware that there are many qualified minority students and scientists deserving an opportunity to show their talents and abilities.