UT Hosts Lecture by Dr. Ines Cifuentes, 2006 Hispanic Scientist of the Year

On Oct. 27, UT proudly hosted a lecture by Dr. Ines Cifuentes, MOSI’s 2006 Hispanic Scientist of the Year. Recipients of the award are Hispanic scientists who advance the awareness of science and inspire the knowledge of science in young students.

Dr. Cifuentes is the sixth recipient of the Hispanic Scientist of the Year. Previous recipients include Dr. Edmond J. Yunis (2005), physician, researcher, Harvard professor; Dr. Antonio Coello Novello (2004), former U.S. Surgeon General; Dr. Maria Molina, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2003); Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro, NASA Astronaut (2002); and Dr. Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez, Marine Biologist (2001).

Dr. Cifuentes was born in London, England, but spent most of her life in Latin America. Her father was from Quito, Ecuador and her mother from New York City. Both of her parents worked for the UN, which gave Dr. Cifuentes the opportunity to live and learn all over Latin America. In 1960 her family moved to Santiago, Chile. A few months after they moved, violent earthquakes shook Santiago and one thousand people died. This event and all deadly earthquakes following inspired her to become a seismologist and help in educating children all over the world about earthquakes.

In 1988 at Columbia University, Dr. Cifuentes was the first Latin American woman to receive a PhD in seismology. She currently serves as the Education and Career Manager at the American Geophysical Union located in Washington D.C. where she focuses on educating young Latino, African and Native American children in the sciences.

She also serves as a Board Member for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). She previously served as the Director of the Carnegie Academy for Science Education in Washington, D.C. There she taught science and mathematics to teachers, as well as elementary school students. She is currently working on children’s books on earthquakes and tsunamis in both the English and Spanish language.

During her lecture in Reeves Theater at UT, she spoke about the history of seismology and the many major earthquakes that have happened in the last couple of decades including the 2004 Indonesian disaster and the 2005 Iranian earthquake.

For her thesis she studied the earthquake that she experienced personally in Santiago, Chile. She wanted to find the magnitude of the earthquake and the possible signals that come before earthquakes.

Dr. Cifuentes stated that for many seismologists it is very difficult because they cannot predict the earthquakes. Although there have been reports of strange phenomenon preceding an earthquake, you must have instruments at that exact spot, and that is very hard to determine.

She also spoke about ways not to prevent earthquakes but to prevent the destruction that an earthquake causes. This includes building structures that can withstand earthquakes and providing adequate education to the people who need it.

“Hundred thousands of people dying because of these events is what we need to change,” she said as she concluded her lecture.

After her lecture, Dr. Stephen Kucera, Associate Dean and the host of the event, presented Dr. Cifuentes with a UT sweatshirt and a children’s book about the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Later that night a reception was held in the Crescent Room on the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center. Many school administrators attended, including the Provost and VP for Academic Affairs Dr. Janet McNew and Dr. Joseph Sclafani, Interim Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Science. Students ad faculty from UT and USF also attended, local dignitaries, the Consuls of Greece and Peru and previous National Hispanic Scientist of the Year recipient, NASA Astronaut Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro. Maruchi Azorin, MOSI Vice President and Founding Chair of MOSI National Hispanic Scientist of the Year, thanked UT for supporting the event. She presented Dr. Sclafani with a framed picture of Dr. Cifuentes with acknowledgements thanking UT for hosting and supporting the event.

Dr. Kucera then gave Fernando Caldeiro the book Plant’s Palace and a UT sweatshirt.

The students that attended the lecture thought it was interesting. Nigel Jagoo came to the lecture because of is involvement in the Biology Honors Society, Beta Beta Beta.

For some, such as UT Senior Sergio Cedeno, a student from Guayaquil, Ecuador, it hit a little closer to home.”Her lecture related to me because the children in my country are not educated enough on subjects like this,” he said.

“It is wonderful that she is thinking about how using science can be an effective way in the future for a better response to these disasters.” Janet McNew, UT Provost, commented.

Other events included a breakfast at the Ybor State Museum on Thursday, Oct. 26, with Mayor Pam Iorio, as well as a lunch at USF. She also met with 1050 Hispanic immigrant middle school students. On the Saturday night after the UT lecture, a Gala Banquet was held at MOSI.

Dr. Cifuentes was very honored to speak at UT and also honored to receive such a great award.

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