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photo of Gladys Escalona de Motta

Gladys Escalona de Motta

When Gladys Escalona de Motta was a young girl in Puerto Rico, her father decided that she would be a doctor when she grew up. However, Gladys had other ideas. She enjoyed science, and especially biology, which is an important field of study for doctors. But Gladys did not want to be a physician, she wanted to be a researcher. Despite pressure from her parents, Gladys completed a bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Puerto Rico. After graduation, she applied to Stanford University to complete her studies, but she was rejected. The following year, however, when the University of Puerto Rico began a graduate program in biology, Gladys was accepted into the program and became the first student to complete a Ph.D. there.

Gladys' research has focused on an important medical problem in Puerto Rico - fish poisoning. Puerto Rico is a popular tropical fishing spot, but some of the fish are poisonous and even fatal to humans. Gladys wanted to know how the poisons in tropical fish affect the nervous systems of humans. Her investigation resulted in the first published study of the topic. She found that the poisons actually come from very tiny organisms that live in the plants that fish eat. As shown in the BreakThrough program, she and her research students are trying to isolate the toxins that build up in the tissues of poisonous tropical fish to discover exactly how they affect human muscles and nerves.

Today, Gladys continues to oversee research projects, but she also has much more responsibility as the dean of the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico. She is committed to helping other Puerto Rican and minority students in their pursuit of careers in science and technology, and has served on several committees dedicated to this cause.

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