Dr. Lorena M Rios Mendoza

Associate Professor of Chemistry
Research Institution: University of Wisconsin Superior
Home state: Wisconsin
What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

Chemistry has been my passion since I had my first chemistry class in middle school in México. The reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to produce water made me wonder about how the chemical reaction can happen. In 1992, I collected samples in the Sea of Cortez and from then on I fell in love with the ocean and in 2010, I saw for first time Lake Superior and I thought “this is like an Ocean!” Presently, I have been conducted studies in almost all the Great Lakes, except for Lake Ontario, but one day I hope to have the opportunity to go to collect samples in this lake and do chemical analysis. My research is related with the environmental chemistry pollution focused on persistent organic pollutants in the oceans and freshwater environments, from tissues, sediments and water. I feel that I have a responsibility to study and prevent the anthropogenic impacts by microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

I have been working with plastic debris pollution since 2003 in the North Pacific Gyre and started working at Lake Superior in 2011. Since then, I have been researching persistent organic pollutants adsorbed onto microplastics in the Great Lakes. I presented for the first time the analysis of these toxic compounds on microplastic particles in 2013 at the International American Chemical Society Conference. The responses that I received since then have been wonderful. We have more questions than answers at this time about this environmental issue, not just in the Great Lakes, but also in all aquatic systems in the world.

Describe an experience you have had working with educators or the community. What was something that surprised you or that you especially enjoyed about the experience?

During my first years at the University of Wisconsin Superior, I gave several seminars about microplastic pollution at the Aquarium (Duluth, MN) to educators. I also had the opportunity to give a seminar to a group of educators aboard the R/V Lake Guardian about plastic debris pollution. This was a unique experience because I noticed how they were surprised by the facts of this environmental issue. They were very involved during my presentation. I participated in the Great Lakes Educator Workshop hosted by NOAA at the Stone Laboratory from Ohio State University on Lake Erie (2015).  Additionally, I have been involved in a series of seminars with the community in Duluth, MN and Superior, WI. It is fascinating to see how the community is learning about microplastic debris pollution. I am so glad to have the opportunity to communicate and educate people about this environmental issue that requires a solution involving everyone.

Why do you think it is important for scientists to share their research with educators?

Educators are the pillar of the new students in science. They have an enormous responsibility in promoting curiosity and interest for the students in the environment. Our responsibility as scientists is to communicate with educators to share our research results and innovations that can help them to educate the new generations of future scientists.

What do you think are the most critical skills for students interested in a career in science?

Do not be afraid to have crazy or quasi-impossible ideas! To be in science, students need to ask questions, show interest in learning, use their knowledge, be responsible, tenacious and enjoy whatever they are doing in science. Another important characteristic is to have the capacity to connect the facts with science, and this means consistently developing and practicing critical thinking skills.

Contact Dr. Lorena M Rios Mendoza: lriosmen@uwsuper.edu