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Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza (photo courtesy Eric Wallace/Michigan Pubic Radio)

Lorena Rios Mendoza

Teaching brings me profound satisfaction.
lriosmen

Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza (photo courtesy Eric Wallace/Michigan Pubic Radio)

Lorena Rios Mendoza is an associate professor of Chemistry at UW-Superior and an internationally known researcher on microscopic plastic pollution in oceans and lakes.

Rios says her goal in the classroom is to teach students critical thinking skills and help them form a foundation for solving complex problems in chemistry. "In chemistry courses, laboratories are essential," she says. "However, many students feel afraid to experiment. In my lab courses, I always encourage students to learn from their mistakes and feel confident experimenting."

Rios' work on microscopic plastic particles has taken her from the so-called North Pacific Garbage Patch to the Great Lakes, including Michigan, Huron, Erie and Superior. Her research has documented the amount and types of plastics pollution in water, sediments and living tissues. Such pollution comes from degraded consumer and industrial waste as well as the microbeads found in personal care and cosmetics products. She has also documented the role such particles play in attracting and concentrating persistent organic pollutants including PCBs, making them more likely to be ingested by aquatic life.

Rios' work has been published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature and reported in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The National Geographic website, Atlantic magazine and others. The work of Rios and other researchers led to laws in Wisconsin and Michigan banning the use of microplastic beads in personal care products.

Rios has a team of science students, and some of them work as laboratory assistants for her research projects. In the community, she presents her research to area audiences and leads an annual oceans and Great Lakes beach cleanup effort.