Conchita Zuazaga


Thank you to Gabriel H. Ortiz-Pena, who submitted this post to GGSTEM about his grandmother, Conchita Zuazaga. He wrote

My grandmother Conchita Zuazaga got her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico in 1962 and 1964, respectively. After some years of working as an instructor and a research assistant at the UPR, she got her Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1979. She’s co-authored 17 papers, 2 reviews, and a chapter in a textbook. Some of the awards and honors she’s received include the Puerto Rico College of Chemists Prize (1962) and the Medal of the Association of Women Graduates, UPR (1962). She’s always been supportive of my plans, both when I was thinking of becoming a professional musician and when I decided I wanted to go into astrophysics. She was a professor at the UPR for 30 years (1980-2010) and is working on writing a book in her retirement.

In the spirit of celebrating women in STEM, I would also like to mention that my mother is the first person in her family to get a college degree. Despite being a first-generation student, she went on to complete her PhD. in Neurotoxicology at the University of Cincinnati. She completed two postdocs, one of them at UC Berkeley, and taught for 15 years at the UPR’s biology department.

Earlier this summer, my dad posted a facebook status saying that he had just installed Ubuntu on her computer.  Some of his friends and I laughed a bit at how much of a chore it was going to be to teach her how to operate it, but his response put things into perspective (and motivated me to finish writing the story for you).

He said: “Keep in mind that she has a PhD. in biophysics and programmed Fortran on a PDP-11. I’m rooting for her.”
Sometimes it’s easy to see my grandma having trouble with the DVD or her cellphone and forget those things. Just because she’s not as technologically savvy as us youngsters doesn’t mean she’s not scientifically and technically proficient. I hope this post will serve as a reminder to never underestimate any grandmothers, especially my own.

The picture is of her and my grandfather at what I think was my dad’s third or fourth birthday party. Thanks for starting this wonderful project!

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2 Responses to Conchita Zuazaga

  1. Antoinette steiancker says:

    The PDP 11 was actually programmed in Fortran by Anthony Auerbach who was then a post doc with Dr. Jose Del Castillo, one of the greatest neurophysiologist ever to work in Puerto Rico. He was from Spain and the founder of the Institue of Neurobiology in Viejo San Juan. Conchita used Auerbach’s program to analyze the data I got from voltage clamping and then patch clamping the neuromuscular junction of the local lizard intercostal muscles, a preparation developed by Del Castillo. This work is documented in a number of beautiful publications of A. Steinacker and DCZ Zuazaga.

  2. Martin Serna says:

    I am very much looking forward to reading her book that she is writing in retirement as not only is she a woman but a woman in the Spanish speaking culture. I’m keen to hear her voice tell stories about discouragement, as dissappoinment trikles down to family members, and not just daughters. I’ve already requested her book on my amazon.com wishlist. Thank you so much.

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