Rosa Vásquez Espinoza’ family hailed from a small town in the high Andes mountains of Peru, where there was little access to amenities like education, medicine, hospitals, etc. Her grandmother was a proponent of traditional, plant-based medicine, and when her family move to Lima, she brought plants with her and continued tending to them and recommending them for medicinal needs, eventually teaching traditional medicine to her granddaughter. As Rosa grew up and studied more scientific endeavors, she reconciled science and tradition. “I’ve always been fascinated by not only what nature can achieve in terms of medicine and agriculture and even cosmetics, but what’s the science behind it,” she remembers.
Rosa was inspired by the Chinese hospital where she eventually had an internship, remembering how one wing was dedicated to traditional medicine and another to contemporary pharmaceuticals. She felt the two were well-integrated because the hospital had plenty of scientific research behind traditional medicine and suspected that balance was missing in her native South America. “I realized how little we know about all these little nuances in the microscopic world of the jungle,” she says.
This led Rosa to pursue science, studying biochemistry and molecular biology in college. She recently earned her PhD in chemical biology, focusing her studies on the microbes that live in the sediment where plants are grown. Rosa says the microscopic organisms around us have always been useful in medicine, and recently have been proven to be equally useful in environmental conservation. “Often when we’ve been hearing or talking about conservation, we consider the biodiversity that we can see with our naked eyes, so we’re talking about plants, animals,” she explains. “However, the micro-organisms are really the basis for everything around us and all of this beautiful life that we get to see with our eyes, so we need to have a stronger consideration of microbes when we talk about conservation.”
To that end, Rosa has studied the microscopic organisms that manage to thrive in Peru’s mysterious Boiling River, the chemical composition of the medicinal versus poisonous honey of Amazonian Stingless Bees, and more. She also partnered with a National Geographic educator to bring hands-on scientific exploration to fourth-graders, allowing them to work with microbes in the wild and to interpret them through music and art in addition to science. She has documented stories from the jungle via #UnchartedAmazonia, and is only just beginning; her goal is to continue with science that she finds interesting, that also elevates others. “My mom and my dad were great at helping me push my mind in different directions and I feel like that’s something that we need more of,” Rosa says.
About Rosa Vásquez Espinoza
Rosa is a Peruvian Chemical Biologist, National Geographic Explorer, educator, conservationist and award-winning artist. She founded the project MicroAmazon that explores the microscopic universe of extreme environments and unique animals in the Amazon Rainforest to discover new molecules and enzymes for medicine and green chemistry.
About Women Blaze Trails Festival:
In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), LenovoEDU sponsored Women Blaze Trails, a virtual 3-day festival celebrating women in science, exploration, and conservation from around the world.
The virtual festival had one simple goal: celebrating incredible women, doing incredible things around the world, day in and day out. We’re sharing these videos from the festival so you can meet scientists, explorers, conservationists, filmmakers, photographers and more, showcasing their work, challenges, adventures, research and expeditions.