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Inspiring AAPI Scientists and Engineers - Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Learn more about inspiring AANHPI scientists and engineers!

Four scientists featured in Asian American Native Hawaiian Island Pacific Heritage Month collection

May is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. As part of our ongoing work to introduce students to a wide range of scientists and engineers and to continue to represent diversity in STEM, our list of AANHPI individuals joins our other lists dedicated to Black History Month, Women's History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month.

This list contains only a few of the many inspiring AANHPI scientists and engineers who have made (and are making) important contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Lists like these help broaden awareness and inspire students to learn more about these scientists and to explore related science projects, activities, and careers.

Update! This post has been updated for 2023 to include additional scientists and engineers.

How to Use this Resource

For each scientist, we have included a short biographical note, a link to a hands-on science project or activity related to the scientist's area of study, a link to a relevant science career profile, and a link to a biography to help students learn more about individual scientists. Educators can use this career worksheet to guide student exploration and reflection about STEM careers.

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, & Pacific Islanders in Science and Engineering

  • Scientist: Isabella Aiona Abbott

    1. Isabella Aiona Abbott, ethnobotanist (1919–2010)

    Isabella Aiona Abbott, from Hawaii, was an ethnobotanist who studied Pacific marine algae. Abbott is especially known for her research on edible seaweed (limu), of which there are more than 70 types, and has been called the "First Lady of Limu." (Fun fact! Seaweed is a form of algae, so limu is edible algae.) (Biography)
    Experiment with the Too Much of a Good Thing? Study the Effect of Fertilizers on Algal Growth environmental science project.
    Career connection: Plant Scientist

  • Scientist: Ajay Bhatt

    2. Ajay Bhatt, computer architect (1957- )

    Ajay Bhatt, developed Universal Series Bus (USB) technology to make it easier to connect various peripherals to a computer. Bhatt pitched the idea of USB to mulitple companies, including Apple and Microsoft. He created USB at Intel. Bhatt also worked on a number of other computer-related technologies and holds more than 130 U.S. and international patents. (Biography)
    Experiment with hardware and software interfaces and connections in projects like Build a Voice-Controlled Lamp and Build an Adaptive Game Controller for a Raspberry Pi. Explore more with the How to Use Arduino tutorial.
    Career connections: Computer Hardware Engineer and Computer Network Architect

  • Scientist: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

    3. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, astrophysicist (1910-1995)

    Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for research on the structure and evolution of stars. Among his many findings is the Chandra limit, which explains what happens when white dwarf stars die. (They explode or form black holes.) NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory is named in his honor. (Biography)
    Use data from the Change X-Ray Observatory in the X-Ray Vision: Seeing Into Space project.
    Career connection: Astronomer

  • Scientist: Min Chueh Chang

    4. Min Chueh Chang, biologist (1908-1991)

    Min Chueh Chang was a Chinese American biologist whose research focused on mammalian reproduction. His research on in vitro fertilization contributed to the first "test tube baby." Chang was also involved in development of the combined oral contraceptive (birth control) pill. (Biography)
    Experiment with how medicines are developed in the Why Aren't All Medicines Pills? project.
    Career connection: Biologist

  • Scientist: Kalpana Chawla

    5. Kalpana Chawla, aerospace engineer & astronaut (1962-2003)

    Kalpana Chawla was an aerospace engineer and the first Indian American woman in space on NASA's 1997 Columbia space shuttle mission (STS-87) as a robotic arm operator. Chawla was a mission specialist on the Columbia shuttle's STS-107 mission in 2003 and died when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry after its 16-day flight. (Biography)
    Experiment with rocket design in the Model Rocket Aerodynamics: Stability project.
    Career connection: Aerospace Engineer

  • Scientist: Ted Fujita

    6. Tetsuya Theodore "Ted" Fujita, meteorologist (1920-1998)

    Ted Fujita was a Japanese American meteorologist who studied storms and tornadoes and visited hundreds of tornado sites to gather data about tornadoes from the aftermath. Fujita, who became known as "Mr. Tornado," developed the Fujita Scale (F-Scale), a six-point scale to measure the strength of tornadoes. Among his other meteorological discoveries were the concepts of downbursts and microbursts, sudden changes in airflow that can be dangerous. (Fun fact! Although he spent much of his life researching and studying tornadoes, he didn't see one in person until he was in his 60s!) (Note: The current EF Scale for evaluating tornadoes is based on the Fujita-Scale.) (Biography)
    Learn more about wind speed with the How Does a Wind Meter Work? project.
    Career connection: Meteorologist

  • Scientist: Fazlur Rahman Khan

    7. Fazlur Rahman Khan, structural engineer (1929-1982)

    Fazlur Rahman Khan was a Bangladeshi American whose work on skyscraper design and invention of a design strategy known as the "tube principle" led him to be called "the Einstein of structural engineering." Khan also designed the Sears Tower (later renamed the Willis Tower) in Chicago, which was the world's tallest building for many years. (Biography)
    Experiment with the design of tall buildings with the Tallest Paper Tower Challenge project.
    Career connection: Civil Engineers

  • Scientist: Narinder S. Kapany

    8. Narinder S. Kapany, physicist (1926-2020)

    Narinder S. Kapany was an Indian American physicist whose research led him to be known as the "Father of Fiber Optics." He is credited as first using the term fiber optics in 1960. His research on optics was important for the development of modern communications. (Biography)
    Experiment with the Using a Laser to Measure the Speed of Light in Gelatin project.
    Career connection: Photonics Engineer

  • Scientist: Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann

    9. Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann, microbiologist (1937-2005)

    Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann was a Filipino American whose research (with her husband) focused on cyanobacteria and microorganisms that live in extreme environments like the Ross Desert in the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. NASA viewed her research as an indication that microscopic life could exist on Mars. (Biography)
    Explore microorganisms in the context of a different type of extreme exposure with the Death Rays: What Duration of Ultraviolet Exposure Kills Bacteria? project.
    Career connection: Microbiologist

  • Scientist: Ellison Onizuka

    10. Ellison Onizuka, engineer and astronaut (1946-1986)

    Ellison Onizuka was the first Japanese American in space on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-51-C in 1985. Onizuka was a mission specialist and died during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Prior to becoming an astronaut, Onizuka was an engineer and test pilot in the United States Air Force. (Biography)
    Experiment with the The Physics of Artificial Gravity project.
    Career connection: Aerospace Engineer

  • Scientist: Barry Paw

    11. Barry Paw, biologist (1962-2017)

    Barry Paw was a Burmese American who studied red blood cells and used zebrafish to study blood disorders. His research with zebrafish led to identifying gene mutations that cause anaemia. (Biography)
    Explore the effects of genetic mutations with the From Genes to Genetic Diseases: What Kinds of Mutations Matter? project.
    Career connection: Biologist

  • Scientist: Nainoa Thompson

    12. Nainoa Thompson, navigator (1953- )

    Nainoa Thompson, a modern wayfinder, developed the star compass, a navigation tool based on methods used by early Polynesian voyagers. A mental tool, the star compass relies on learning and memorizing the location of stars in the sky, including where they rise and set. (Biography)
    Explore the use of stars for navigation with the Which Stars Can You Use for Navigation in Different Parts of the World? project.
    Career connections: Geographic Information Systems Technician, Cartographer or Photogrammetrist, Astronomer

  • Scientist: Peter Tsai

    13. Peter Tsai, materials scientist (1952- )

    Peter Tsai was a Taiwanese American materials scientist who invented the fabric used in the filters of N95 masks. (These masks were widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic.) (Biography)
    Experiment with the DIY Face Mask and Design and 3D Print Your Own Fabric activities.
    Career connection: Materials Scientist and Engineer

  • Scientist: Roger Tsien

    14. Roger Tsien, biochemist (1952-2016)

    Roger Tsien shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research on the green fluorescent protein (GFP). Tsien modified GFP to create a rainbow of colors beyond green. Using this palette of GFP colors enabled Tsien and other scientists to tag and track multiple proteins and cells in real time. (Fun fact! Tsien's research led to projects like making jellyfish glow.) (Biography)
    Experiment with GFP to make colorful bacterial art with the Genetically Modified Organisms: Create Glowing Bacteria! project.
    Career connection: Biochemist

  • Scientist: David T. Wong

    15. David T. Wong, neuroscientist (1935- )

    David T. Wong was a Chinese American neuroscientist whose research at Eli Lilly and Company included the discovery of fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac. Fluoxetine was the first identified selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) (although Prozac was not first to the market due to many years of testing). These chemical compounds are used in antidepressants. (Biography)
    Explore the importance of testing in pharmaceutical development with the Hitting the Target: The Importance of Making Sure a Drug's Aim Is True project.
    Career connection: Biochemist

  • Scientist: Flossie Wong-Staal

    16. Flossie Wong-Staal, virologist and molecular biologist (1947-2020)

    Flossie Wong-Staal was a Chinese-American virologist and molecular biologist and the first to clone the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Her work helped show that HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). (Biography)
    Experiment with the Tracking COVID-19's Genomic and Clinical Evolution project and the How Do Viruses React To Soap? activity.
    Career connection: Biologist

  • Scientist: Chien-Shiung Wu

    17. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

    Chien-Shiung Wu is sometimes called the "First Lady of Physics." Her experimental physics research on using "gaseous diffusion" to separate uranium into U235 and U238 led to large-scale testing at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge and was instrumental in the Manhattan Project's development of the atomic bomb. Wu also developed improved Geiger counters to detect radiation levels. (Fun fact! Wu is featured on a 2021 stamp from the United States Postal System.) (Biography)
    Explore nuclear physics with the Watching Nuclear Particles: See Background Radiation Zoom Through A Cloud Chamber project.
    Career connection: Physicist

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    18. Tsai-Fan Yu, physician (1911–2007)

    Tsai-Fan Yu was a Chinese American doctor who discovered the relationship between gout and high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. Her research identified a set of drugs that helped treat gout. (Biography)
    Experiment with the Drugs & Genetics: Why Do Some People Respond to Drugs Differently than Others? project.
    Career connection: Physician

"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system."
Kalpana Chawla, aerospace engineer and astronaut

Images: public domain or fair use, with exception of:
Narinder S. Kapany (Sikh Foundation)
Roy O. Greep (CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikpedia)
Ted Fujita (University of Chicago, Special Collections Research Center)
Barry Paw (BIORIRON)
Nainoa Thompson (CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia)
Roger Tsien (GFDL 1.2, Wikipedia)
Peter Tsai (University of Tennessee)
David T. Wong (Indiana Historical Society)

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