By Felicity Bosk
When Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza was asked what she does for fun, she said “I really enjoy doing my research, I don’t really feel like this is a job, I’m always working, Sundays and weekends and breaks, all the time. However I like to go to parties. It’s part of my culture; Mexicans like to party.”
Dr. Rios is a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and one of only two female natural science professors at UWS. She was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the United States to complete her PhD. Besides teaching and advising, she has been conducting research on plastic.
This past year, her research on plastic in our water has led to legislation making the use of microbeads (tiny plastic) in cosmetic products illegal nationally.
“I started it in 2003 in California, collecting plastic. At first I didn’t think it was a problem and then I found that the plastics behave like sediments. I was very scared when I found my own results,” she said. “I wanted to continue with plastic and my colleagues here told me “no, Superior is so clean, this isn’t California,” and I found out, no we have the problem.” She said when they opened the stomach of fish they found fibers and secondary contamination of plastic. Her and her students analyzed the lab and dorms searching for plastic. Last year they collected samples of air in Duluth.
“We found plastic in the air, we presented this research to International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR), [Kristen Johnson] won a prize at that conference because the topic is so important.”
Dr. Rios knows chemistry is a difficult science to learn, but she also knows that it can be fun. She compared it to dancing: “If they need to dance they need to practice a lot and if they think dance is simple, it is not. They have to practice all the time and it’s painful because learning a physical exercise is painful, but you learn.”
Chihuahua, Mexico is where Dr. Rios was born and grew up, but her family moved to Mexico City later in her life. This is where she earned her Bachelor of Science. Moving from a small town to a big city was a huge change for her, so for her Master’s degree she went to a University in a small town in Ensenada, Mexico.
Her and her family lived in California for many years before deciding to move to Superior. “People ask me why I moved from Cali to here and I say the weather and they think I’m kidding but I’m not I love the weather, I miss the snow.”