We should all thank a Mexican immigrant, Albert Baez (1912-2007), for modern medicine and astronomy, for his pioneering work in X-Rays led to critical breakthroughs in science! If the name Baez seems familiar, it’s because rock star Joan Baez is his daughter! The late Mimi Baez Fariña was also his daughter and another great singer.
Early Life of Albert Baez
Albert Baez was born in Puebla, Mexico, the son of a Methodist minister. His family moved to Brooklyn in 1914, where Albert Baez grew up, and his father was minister at the First Spanish Methodist Church, whose members were predominately Puerto Ricans, Spanish speaking, and impoverished. As son of the minister, Albert grew up in a compassionate and caring environment.
Albert Baez was also interested in the ministry, but ultimately chose mathematics and physics. Albert Baez earned a bachelors from Drew University in 1933, a masters degree from Syracuse University in 1935, and a doctorate from Stanford University in 1950.
Albert Baez met Joan Chandos Bridge, an immigrant from Scotland, in High School, and later married her. He took his daughters Joan Baez and the late Mimi Baez Fariña to concerts as teenagers. Little did he know that both would later achieve stardom! A nephew, John C. Baez, is also a noted physicist and professor of mathematics at the University of California – Riverside.
Joan Baez’s performance of “Blowing in the Wind” is one of my favorites from the 1960s. Here’s an original recording:
Did you know Joan Baez and Mimi Baez Fariña also sang in Spanish?
Albert Baez and the Invention of X-Ray Microscopes and X-Ray Telescopes
While at Stanford, in 1948 Albert Baez and Paul Kirkpatrick, his doctoral adviser, invented the first X-Ray Reflection Microscope for looking at living cells, a vital part of modern medicine that is still used today! After receiving his PhD, Albert Baez developed zone plates—concentric circles of alternating opaque and transparent materials to use diffraction instead of refraction to focus X-rays, very important in the development of X-Ray telescopes. Practical application of X-Ray microscopes and telescopes had to wait for decades for technology to catch up, but we can thank this Mexican immigrant for these wonderful inventions that have benefited mankind so much!
Albert Baez and His Contributions to Science Education
Baez authored the textbook The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach (1967), and co-authored of the textbook The Environment and Science and Technology Education (1987), and the memoir A Year in Baghdad (1988). Albert Baez also produced almost 100 films about physics for Encyclopædia Britannica. Baez also chaired the Commission on Education of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources from 1979 to 1983.
Though Albert Baez has passed on, he is still inspiring young Hispanics to pursue the sciences, with the Albert V. Baez Award for Technical Excellence and Service to Humanity, established by the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC). Baez himself was inducted into the HENAAC Hall of Fame.
Albert Baez and the Cold War
Unlike many of his colleagues in that era, Albert Baez did not work for the arms industry, due to his pacifist beliefs. He and his wife had become Quakers. Instead, Albert Baez stayed in academia. After receiving his PhD, he was a professor at the University of Redlands, where he continued his X-ray research, from 1950-56. Baez worked for UNESCO in 1951, stationing his family in Baghdad to establish the physics department and laboratory at Baghdad University.
In 1959, Baez accepted a faculty position at MIT, and moved his family to the Boston area. In 1960, working with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, he developed optics for the X-ray telescope. Later that year he moved to the faculty of Harvey Mudd College, and moved his family to Claremont, California. He directed science teaching for UNESCO in Paris from 1961-67.
Albert Baez – Immigrant From Mexico
We are indeed fortunate that Albert Baez was not caught up in the “Mexican repatriation” of the 1930s and 1940s, when 1 million “Mexicans”, of whom 60% were U.S. Citizens, were forced out of the U.S., often simply rounded up and put onto trains headed deep into Mexico. Without Albert Baez, who knows if X-ray microscopes and telescopes would have been developed? His contributions werea great asset to America, and those who think Mexicans form a permanent underclass need to read more history.
Albert Baez apparently never forgot his roots either, nor his father’s mentoring of his poor flock in Brooklyn. Growing up as the son of a minister for a poor congregation in Brooklyn, he would have been aware of the grinding poverty that affected many Puerto Ricans and immigrants during the Great Depression. Later in life, Albert Baez, served as president of Vivamos Mejor (we live better), a charity which is active in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Brazil.
Bob Quasius is founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans.