Many of the scientists currently working in the United States in the field of STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math) are immigrants who moved to the U.S. either to study their craft or to further their careers. Immigrants have been at the forefront of many historical breakthroughs within STEM, such as Albert Einstein (a German immigrant) and James Clerk Maxwell (born in Scotland), who are known for their theories on relativity and equations on electromagnetism, respectively. While history has proven that immigrants are integral to the furtherance of scientific understanding, present-day scientists are continuing this tradition by inventing and observing numerous new scientific discoveries.
Jean M. J. Fréchet, currently Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry, is one of the many modern-day scientists making headlines for their work within STEM. Fréchet, born in France in 1944, moved to the United States and completed his studies in polymer and organic chemistry (both MS and Ph.D.) and in 1987 became the IBM Professor of Polymer Chemistry at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His list of accolades goes on and on, with over 39 honors and awards presented to him over the last 36 years, including winning the Arthur C. Cope Award for his research in the field of organic chemistry. Holding over 70 American patents and having written over 900 academic and scientific papers, Jean M. J. Fréchet is living proof of a scientist’s biggest dream – changing the world with their research and discoveries.
Ukranian-born mathematician Svitlana Mayboroda, born in 1981, was the 2018 invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians and has focused her research on partial differential equations and harmonic analysis. Mayboroda earned two Masters degrees while in Ukraine and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Missouri in 2015. Before completing her Ph.D., she was awarded the Sadosky Research Prize in Analysis of the Association for Women in Mathematics in 2013, an achievement that not many women her age (at the time 32 years old) have been granted. In 2017, Svitlana and her team were able to predict the behavior of electrons through a mathematical equation, a discovery that took her over five years of research and exploration and catapulted her into the scientific spotlight.
From 1990 to 2015 the number of immigrant workers in STEM almost doubled (from ~4.3M to 8.1M), with math, engineering, and physics seeing the highest level of growth. This growth may be attributed to the number of foreign-born students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at American universities, with statistics showing that 40% of the U.S. science and engineering doctoral degrees earned in 2003 were by immigrants. In 2015 alone, over 39% of the software engineers working in the United States were foreign-born, with 27.4% of the computer programming workforce being made up of immigrants. This data not only informs us of the impact of immigrants STEM professionals but also gives a clear understanding of the future of STEM and the monumental contributions we can expect from foreign-born scientists in the future.