Despite all the important contributions that Latinas have made in the U.S. and around the world, they aren’t often recognized for it. Latinas have made history across a variety of different industries like beauty, wellness, engineering, and health. In fact, there are several things you might not know were created by Latinas, such as Apple’s emojis, the beauty blender, and the breast pump with a wall vacuum. Although Latina poderosas and their accomplishments should be celebrated all year long, this month we wanted to highlight these Latina inventors and the notable things they created.
Beautyblender (2003): Rea Ann Silva
Rea Ann Silva worked as a makeup artist for musicians like Eve, Brandi, & Tupac when she began developing a product that wouldn’t take up as much of performers’ time as foundation application by airbrush. She created a prototype for the Beautyblender, a sponge that could be used to apply makeup on a performer’s face without having to pull them off the set mid-shoot due to its shape and absorption. In 2002, this Mexican-American makeup artist turned entrepreneur began selling the Beautyblender as a commercial product, and in 2003, she formed an LLC. Sephora began selling Beautyblenders in their stores in 2013, elevating her business to the top of the cosmetics sector.
Nanopro (2016): María Alexandra Tamayo
Despite being the second country in the world with the most water, only 8% of Colombian households have access to clean water, causing people to fall ill and die prematurely. In rural zones, up to 30% of Colombians are unable to access clean water. To combat preventable diseases and death, this Colombian inventor and biomedical engineer created the NanoPro device in 2016, which can rid water of viruses, bacteria, & fungi without altering the water’s taste, color or smell. This device provides safe drinking water for Colombians and is more affordable than the current water treatment systems in Colombia. In 2019, Tamayo was named one of the winners of the Latin American Innovators under 35 in the MIT Technology Review for making clean and safe drinking water more accessible to all.
Fast Dengue Fever Test: Maria Angélica de Camargo
After the Zika virus arrived in the Americas, dengue diagnostic testing became more complicated due to the similarity in molecular structure of the diseases. In order to differentiate the diseases and create more accurate testing methods, this Brazilian molecular biologist created a protein that allowed for a more efficient and specialized kind of testing called the fast dengue fever test. In addition to reducing mortality in those infected and accelerating treatment for the viral disease, this style of testing is more affordable and can identify whether a patient has the Zika virus or dengue earlier on, and Camargo was named one of the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 in 2015.
Breast pump with wall vacuum (1997): Elena T. Medo
After her third child was born in 1982, this working Latina mom and inventor struggled with carrying her 30-pound breast pump with her during her daily commute to the Vancouver Stock Exchange. To provide working moms with a more convenient option, Medo developed a lighter breast pump that could be more easily transported and weighed only five pounds, replacing the hard appendage on her pump with a more comfortable, flexible funnel. In 1999, she was able to successfully patent a manual breast pump system that was more effective and used a wall vacuum system.
LIZA STI Testing: Ishtar Rizzo
This Mexican inventor is the co-founder of LIZA, a start-up that aims to improve sexual health through the LIZA device, which makes STI testing quicker and less painful. As chlamydia testing can be sometimes invasive and painful, the LIZA device collects the initial fraction of urine needed for testing and discards the rest. This Latina entrepreneur hopes that in the future, the device can be purchased at any pharmacy similarly to a pregnancy test in order to make STI testing more accessible and painless, and in 2018, she was one of the 35 young people awarded by the MIT Technology Review.
Long-life nickel-hydrogen batteries: Olga D. González-Sanabria
This chemical engineer of Puerto Rican descent and her team at NASA created the long-life nickel-hydrogen batteries in 1988, which are used in space satellites and improve their performance. This kind of battery can run for 40,000 cycles and lasts for 10 to 15 years; in 2002, the Boricua engineer was appointed to Senior Executive Service (SES), becoming the first Latina at the Center to receive an SES designation, and received the Outstanding Leadership Medal. She was inducted into Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame for her technical advancements in 2003 as well as NASA’s Glenn Research Center Hall of Fame in 2021 for her important work.
Apple’s Emojis: Angela Guzman
This Colombian-American UX designer and entrepreneur co-created the original set of Apple emojis in 2008 and helped develop several iPhone, iPad, & Mac features like Facetime and Messages. Based in Silicon Valley, CA, she has worked for Google, Airbnb, and Apple and is currently the Head of Design Foundations at Pinterest. She founded and was the CEO of her own startup company Tijiko (2019-2021), which was a real-time digital coaching platform.