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Community | Cristián Samper – Hispanic Scientist of the Year


Director of the

Smithsonian Institution’s

National Museum of Natural History

Chosen as

MOSI’s 2011 National

Hispanic Scientist of the Year

Tampa’s Museum of Science & Industry, along with presenting sponsor Bright House Networks,  has chosen their 2011 honoree, Cristián Samper,  Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Samper is responsible for the largest natural history collection in the world and a museum that welcomes more than 6 million visitors each year. Since his arrival in 2003, Samper reinvigorated the research staff by hiring new curators to replace retiring staff; built major new collections storage facilities and laboratories in Suitland, Md. and raised more than $100 million to support new long-term exhibitions and programs, including the Encyclopedia of Life and the Sant Ocean Hall.

A scientist and an international authority on conservation biology and environmental policy, he has dedicated the majority of his career to understanding and protecting the Earth’s biological diversity. He has also served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and was deputy director and staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Samper was the founding director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the national biodiversity research institute of Colombia, and Chairman of the scientific advisory body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.  His devotion to Colombia’s ecological preservation earned him the country’s National Medal of the Environment in 2001.

Samper is a member of the boards of the American Association of Museums, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Board of Overseers and Bioversity International’s Board of Trustees. Born in San José, Costa Rica, and raised in Colombia, Samper studied biology at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in biology from Harvard University.

It’s an honor for MOSI to present this award to Samper,” said Wit Ostrenko, MOSI president. “As a scientist and international authority on conservation biology, we feel Samper’s background directly ties into MOSI’s core values and ideologies and he will be able to educate today’s youth immensely on how to protect the Earth’s environment.”

For the past ten years, MOSI has recognized nationally distinguished Hispanic science and engineering professionals to serve as role models and mentors for Tampa Bay’s Hispanic youth.

Past honorees include a former U.S. Surgeon General, a Nobel Laureate of Chemistry, a NASA astronaut, a marine biologist, a Harvard professor of pathology and former chief of immunogenetics at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a seismologist and former director of the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE), Washington, D.C., an industrial engineer and the first Hispanic to serve as acting head of the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), a molecular biologist and founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and most recently the Director and Chief Executive of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

MOSI will present this year’s National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award to Samper during a gala award ceremony on Saturday, October 22, 2011.

The mission of MOSI’s National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award is to recognize outstanding Hispanic scientists who promote a greater public understanding of science and motivate Hispanic youths’ interest in science.  For more information, visit

The original development of the award was prompted in 2000 when statistics showed an alarmingly high dropout rate for Hispanic students.  Department of Education research shows that Hispanics are more likely to drop out of high school than any other ethnic group in the U.S.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2008 dropout rate for Hispanic students was 18.3% compared to 9.9% for African Americans and 4.8% for Caucasians.

In an effort to combat this type of disparity in the Hispanic community, proceeds from the event help provide more than 1,300 students from underserved communities and low-income schools an exciting day of mentoring with Dr. Arvizu and access to over 450 MOSI hands-on exhibits during Meet the Hispanic Scientist Day, which will take place on Friday, October 21.  Event proceeds also help to fund MOSI’s YES! Team, an educational enrichment and vocational training program designed to help at-risk youth develop and progress in a supportive peer-group environment.

About MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry)

MOSI is a not-for-profit, community-based institution and educational resource dedicated to advancing public interest, knowledge, and understanding of science, industry, and technology. With a total size of over 400,000 square feet, MOSI is the largest science center in the southeastern United States, and home to the only IMAX® Dome Theatre in the state of Florida. Kids In Charge! The Children’s Science Center at MOSI is the largest children’s science center in the nation. Disasterville, featuring WeatherQuest, combines education and 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits on the science behind natural disasters.  MOSI’s newest permanent exhibition, The Amazing You, explores the fascinating world of birth through end of life. MOSI is the proud winner of the 2009 National Medal for Museums by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the nation’s highest honor for museums. For more information on MOSI, visit

Former MOSI National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award honorees

Dr. Dan Arvizu (2010), Director and Chief Executive of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Dr. Nils J. Diaz (2009), chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff (2008), molecular biologist; Dr. Louis A. Martin-Vega (2007), industrial engineer; Dr. Inés Cifuentes (2006), seismologist; Dr. Edmond J. Yunis (2005), physician, researcher, Harvard professor; Dr. Antonia Coello Novello (2004), former U.S. Surgeon General; Dr. Mario Molina (2003), Nobel Laureate in Chemistry; Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro (2002), NASA Astronaut; Dr. Alejandro Acevedo-Gutiérrez (2001), Marine Biologist.


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