Major Scientific Interest
- Dr. Rodriguez travels throughout the world looking for natural chemicals produced by
plants and animals. He tries to discover how these chemicals work, why they are made by
the organism, and how we can apply them, particularly in medicines and pesticides.
- Early School History
- Dr. Rodriguez was born and raised in South Texas. His family was poor and his father
dropped out of school in first grade, but his parents were interested in his education. He
recalls that his mother attended every parent meeting during his first four years of
- He sadly remembers that he had few minority teachers while he was growing up and was
punished for speaking Spanish in the Texas classroom. He recalls that in junior high, many
Spanish-speaking students were told they could not go on to college. He was a good student
but really did not become interested in science until the eleventh grade, when he had a
strong role model in a science teacher named Mr. Fernando. As an undergraduate, he became
interested in reptiles and wanted for a while to be a reptile taxonomist.
- Student at the University of Texas
- Although he graduated in the top 5% of his high school class, his counselor suggested
that he should think about going to a technical school instead of a university. He
disregarded the advice and went to the University of Texas at Austin. He still did not see
many Mexican Americans as teachers. Once again, he remembers that in his undergraduate and
graduate career, he did not once encounter a scientist from a minority group.
- At the University of Texas, Dr. Rodriguez became excited about science by actually doing
scientific research. (He published or co-published three papers as an undergraduate.) By
the time he finished his Ph.D., he had published 14 articles (he has over 140 now). Even
after he received his degree, as a Mexican American, he found it hard to get an academic
position. Finally, in 1979, just as he was about to leave the country, the University of
California offered him a position, and he remained there until 1994. He is presently
the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, New
- Research at University of California, Cornell University and
Work with the Minority Community
- Dr. Rodriguez created a new discipline of science called zoopharmacognosy, the study of
the behavior of animals that medicate themselves and of the chemistry of medicinal plants.
He and Richard Wrangham of Harvard University discovered that wild animals use plants as
medicine. He and his research team have isolated the chemicals from many native plants
that are useful as medicines. In December 1992, Dr. Rodriguez was the first American to be
awarded the Martin de la Cruz Award from the Mexican government for research on the
chemistry of plants used by Aztecs for medicine.
- Considered one of the most brilliant scientists in the country, Dr. Rodriguez is not
only an outstanding researcher and university teacher but also an individual with a strong
sense of commitment to the minority community. He started a successful series of programs
to increase the involvement of minority children in math and science, to provide them with
excellent minority role models, and to involve them in the fun and rewards of scientific
research. He has organized programs for minority students in colleges and graduate schools
to support them in becoming researchers in biology and other science fields. In 1990 he
began the Kids Investigating and Discovering Science (K.I.D.S.) program, which brings
minority students from Kindergarten through eighth grades into the research laboratories
at UCI to discover the excitement that comes from exploring the natural and physical
world. He continues his research and work with minority students at Cornell University.
- Resources for Teachers and Students
- To learn more about his work visit the following sites: Dr. Rodriguez's
Home Page, C.H.I.M.P.P.
Home page, Nature's
Pharmacy -- Field Guides, FLORIN
Medicinal Plants Brief.
Other Recommended Links
Environmental Education - Link: EE-Link Introduction
- If you would like to correspond directly with Dr. Rodriguez, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.