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Texas A&M Chemistry Student Heads to Paris for U.N. Climate Talks

Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer's picture
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Marrero Ortíz at the American Chemical Society headquarters.

With the Thanksgiving holidays upon us, travel is on the week's agenda for most Texas A&M University students. For Wilmarie Marrero-Ortiz '14, the itinerary includes Paris, France, and the world's biggest stage for climate change.

Marrero-Ortiz, a doctoral student in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, is one of nine students nationwide selected to attend theUnited Nations Conference on Climate Change as a student representative of the American Chemical Society (ACS). This is the sixth year ACS has sponsored students, and Marrero-Ortiz is the first from Texas A&M to earn the distinction.

Marrero-Ortiz will depart Friday (Nov. 27) for the City of Lights to participate in the first week of the prestigious conference, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. She and her fellow ACS-sponsored attendees will blog their observations about the U.N. climate talks, called the Conference of the Parties (COP), to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC). The group, featured in thelatest issue of Chemical & Engineering News, will interview scientists, policymakers and national leaders and discuss how the known science of climate change may be incorporated into international policy.

According to Marrero-Ortiz, the team's goal is to promote climate change literacy among college and university students by employing social media as a tool and the U.N. as a platform to educate and to engage others in climate change discourse. Personally, she hopes to acquire additional skills and knowledge in order to be able to educate future generations for a better understanding of chemistry-climate interactions.

"During the COP21, we will assist every day at the conference, acquire knowledge about the different perspectives, network with other international NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] observers, and disseminate the scientific information to broader audiences," Marrero-Ortiz said. "We will be documenting our daily experience and entering into debates to discuss the alternatives for climate change mitigation and adaptation."

Marrero-Ortiz, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has a bachelor's degree in chemistry and environmental science from the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, has been doing chemistry research since her sophomore year, including two National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer internships at Texas A&M (2010) and the University of Colorado (2011).

A graduate student at Texas A&M since August 2012, Marrero-Ortiz is on track to earn her Ph.D. in physical/analytical chemistry in 2017 under the guidance of her principal Ph.D. advisor Renyi Zhang, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry. She currently is studying the physical and chemical properties of aerosols, specifically the formation mechanism and optical properties of light-absorbing organic aerosols. A former Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Bridge to the Doctorate (BTD) fellow, she also received a three-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2014.

In addition to laboratory experiments, Marrero-Ortiz' research has a fieldwork component, including a recent two-month stint in Beijing (December 2014 to February 2015) studying the Haze formation. She also collaborates with Texas A&M chemist Simon North's research group studying atmospheric-relevant gas-phase reactions. 

"Wilmarie has shown outstanding initiative in pursuing impactful external opportunities to enhance her experience and training," North said. "There are few students in recent memory who have been so engaged, and we benefit tremendously from having Wilmarie representing our program abroad."

Earlier this fall, Marrero-Ortiz helped found a Texas A&M student organization called A-STEP (Aggies in Science, Technology and Engineering Policy) that is working to bridge the gap between scientists, policy-makers and the general public on scientific issues. In addition, she is a member of ACS,the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorology Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and Women In Science and Engineering (WISE). She has been a SACNAS-Texas A&M Chapter officer since 2013 and currently serves as a board member for the 2016 Susan M. Arseven '75 Women In Science and Engineering Conference, at which she will act as the student host for the event's keynote speaker. 

In light of the recent terrorist attacks, Marrero-Ortiz admits to a little trepidation as she prepares for her trip to Paris. However, given the size and scope of the event and a confirmed guest list that still includes the presidents from the United States, China and Russia in addition to other dignitaries from government and industry sectors, she says the potential risk is worth what she sees as enormous possibilities.

"The conference is a really big one," Marrero-Ortiz said. "Even before the attacks, the French borders were half-closed, for security purposes. This is an experience that will help me in countless ways, combining my scientific training, educational development and science policy concepts to help enhance formal and informal education. It will broaden my skills through new perspectives and realities and also give me some sense of the gaps and needs from science for better climate change mitigation and adaptation."

Marrero-Ortiz says her trip would not be possible without funding support from Texas A&M Chemistry, the College of Science, the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies and the Texas A&M University System-affiliated Texas Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) -- invaluable contributions she fittingly appreciates during the traditional season of thanks.

"All of them contribute financially to make this happen, and for that, I am extremely grateful and humbly honored," Marrero-Ortiz said.

Learn more about ACS advocacy efforts as well as Marrero-Ortiz and her fellow ACS student representatives. You can also visit their bloga nd follow them on Twitter as well as via the hashtag #ParisCOP21.

For additional information on graduate programs in the Department of Chemistry, go to

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