Distinguished Boricuas II

This is the second installment of Distinguished Boricuas. In these posts we recognize the vast accomplishments and contributions made to the world community by those of Puerto Rican ancestry. The accomplishments and contributions I primarily focus on are those in the fields of architecture, science, astronomy, business, education, industry and the military. This weeks edition will spotlight the following "Distinguished Boricuas";

Victor Manuel Blanco; astronomer;
Nitza Magarita Cintron; scientist
Rafel Bras; engineer


 An  astronomer who in 1959 discovered "Blanco 1", a galactic cluster.  Blanco was the second Director of the  Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which had the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere at the time. In 1995, the telescope was dedicated in his honor and named the Victor M. Blanco Telescope; it is also known as the "Blanco 4m".

Blanco was born in the town of Guayama, Puerto Rico, where he received his primary and secondary education. As a child, Blanco would often wonder about the stars and became interested in astronomy. He moved to the city of Chicago and entered the University of Chicago where he earned a Bachelors of Science degree. Blanco continued his studies and earned his Masters degree in Arts and later his doctorate in astronomy. Employed by the University of Puerto Rico as an assistant professor of Astrometry, Blanco was recruited in 1948 and assisted in the task of polishing the mirrors of the 200-inch Hale telescope in California. In 1949, he returned to Puerto Rico and reassumed his duties at the UPR.


Blanco later served as the Director of the Astrometry and Astrophysics Division of the United States Naval Observatory. The U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) provides a wide range of astronomical data and products, and serves as the official source of time for the U.S. Department of Defense and a standard of time for the entire United States.  He also served in Java, Indonesia for UNESCO in the position of astronomer.Blanco, a professor of Astrophysics at the Case Institute of Technology (renamed Case Western Reserve University in 1967) in Cleveland, Ohio, discovered an open cluster in 1959. The stellar cluster which was named Blanco 1, in his honor, has the blue star Zeta Sculptoris in the center of its constellation.  According to "The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society", Blanco 1 exhibits subsolar ratios that are not observed among nearby field stars. Blanco and his wife Betty Blanco together with Martin McCarthy work on the stellar population in the central regions of our galaxy and in the Magellanic Clouds was pioneering. They discovered of the change in the ratio of carbon stars to M-type stars from the nuclear bulge of our galaxy to the LMC and then the SMC.

In July 1967, Blanco became the second director of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). Located in Cerro Tololo mountain, Chile and founded in 1963, it is part of the National (U.S.) Optical Astronomy Observatory known as "NOAO" Blanco built the scientific, engineering, and technical staff from scratch.

When Blanco arrived at CTIO, there was a 60-inch telescope in operation. During his tenure the University of Michigan’s 0.6-m Curtis Schmidt moved there in 1967, CTIO installed a 0.9-m reflector in 1967 and a 1.5-m reflector in 1968, and Yale University’s 1-m reflector, was installed there in 1973.  Blanco played an instrumental role in persuading various agencies to participate in the construction of a 4-m telescope. During its construction, he personally played a major role in the alignment and commissioning of the telescope. The telescope, which is the southern twin of the 4-m instrument at Kitt Peak National Observatory, opened in 1974. The 4-m became the most productive telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.


 On October 15, 1985, Dr. E. Bowell discovered a main belt asteroid with an orbital period of 1571.4391974 days (4.30 years) which he named 9550 Victorblanco in honor of Blanco.

On 8 September 1995, in a well attended mountain top ceremony, the CTIO 4-m telescope was officially named the "Victor M. Blanco Telescope" which is also known as "the Blanco 4m". The Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory is used to help scientists study cosmic acceleration, the observation that the universe seems to be expanding at an accelerating rate. A large bronze plaque affixed to the outside the main entrance to the building reads (in Spanish, then English):

Telescopio Victor M. Blanco

En reconocimiento a los años de destacada labor y servicio en Cerro Tololo.

In appreciation for many years of outstanding leadership and service at CTIO.


(born 1950) is a scientist who is currently the Chief of Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Cintron was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico the capital city of the island. As a child, she traveled throughout Europe because her father was a member of the U.S. Army. When her father retired from the armed forces, they returned to Puerto Rico and settled down in Santurce, a section of San Juan. There she attended elementary and high school, where she excelled in science and mathematics. She dedicated many hours to reading and studying about biology, chemistry, astronomy and space.

Cintron enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico where she earned a Bachelors Degree in Biology. In 1972 she was accepted into the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology training program offered by The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where in 1978 she earned a Ph.D. degree. In 1978, Cintron read a recruitment announcement for the first Mission Specialist positions in the Astronaut Corps while at Johns Hopkins still completing her PhD research work. She answered the advertisement and passed to the finals. However, she was not selected because of her poor eyesight. Her academic qualifications impressed the people at NASA to the extent that she was offered the position of NASA Scientist.

In 1979, Cintron was the originator of the Biochemistry Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. Cintron also served from (1979-85) as the project scientist for the Space Lab 2 mission which was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.

After many years of service at NASA, she was sponsored by NASA after she was accepted as a student by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. She graduated in 1995 with a M.D. degree, and is currently a board-certified specialist in internal medicine.

Among the positions held by Cintron in NASA are "Chief of the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch in the Medical Science Division" and "Director for managing the Life Sciences Research Laboratories" in support of medical operations. In 2004 she was named "Chief of NASA’s (JSC) Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office", position which she currently holds.

Cintron has received many awards and honors. Among them the "JSC Director’s Commendation and Innovation Award", the centers highest award for a civil servant, the "NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement", the highest science honor given by the agency. On October 7, 2004, she was inducted into the Hispanic Engineer’s National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, located in Los Angeles, California, was established in 1998 and recognizes the contributions of Hispanics in the fields of science, engineering and technology. In 2006, she was recognized as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic magazine.                                                                                          


An engineer and expert in hydrometeorology and global warming; Mr. Bras was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He studied at MIT, where he received a B.S. in 1972, an M.S., 1974, and an Sc.D., 1975. On completion of his doctorate, he worked for a time as an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico school of engineering, and performed some consulting work on the island.

He returned to MIT where he has held multiple positions. His last position there was an endowed professorship in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is a former department head, and also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He has served as Associate Director, Center for Global Change Science.

As an engineering hydrologist, his major areas of interest include land-atmosphere interactions and geomorphology. He is considered one of the world’s leading experts in global warming, and has also served as a professional consultant in multiple projects around the world.

He is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of the International Association for Hydraulic Research and the American Meteorological Society. He is also a registered professional engineer in several states. He is listed as a Highly Cited Researcher by ISI.

On April 24, 2008, Bras was appointed as dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, effective September 1, 2008. Dr Rafael Bras has recieved the following awards and recognitions;

  • membership in the National Academy of Engineering;
  • Giants in Science Award of the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Mathematics, Science and Engineering Network;
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, MIT;
  • William Mong Distinguished Lecture, University of Hong Kong;
  • Albert Baez, Jr. Award and the Outstanding Hispanic Educator Award, Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award Conference;
  • Horton Lecturer, American Meteorological Society;
  • Clarke Prize Laureate;
  • Walter Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize, ASCE;
  • honorary doctorate (Laurea) from the University of Perugia, Italy;
  • James B. Macelwane Award, AGU;
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship;
  • Killian Award lecture, MIT.    

Dean Rafael L. Bras, Sc.D., and 2009 Student Commencement Speaker James Castanzo, materials science engineering and mechanical engineering

The "Victor M. Blanco Telescope"
also known as "the Blanco 4m"

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