The Adventures of Meg A. Mole, Future Chemist

Interview with Dr. Riccardo Papa: Professor and Lab Director of the of the Sequencing and Genotyping Facility

In  honor of this year’s Chemists Celebrate Earth Week theme, “The Buzz About Bugs: Insect Chemistry,” I traveled all the way to the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, to meet with Dr. Riccardo Papa, Professor and Lab Director of the Sequencing and Genotyping Facility.

Dr. Papa studies Heliconius butterflies, also known as longwings. His lab is “dedicated to the study of genetics and genomics” using these butterflies. More specifically, he and his team are exploring the “source of variation in natural selection and adaptation … and why and how the patterns and colors on a butterfly’s wing can change over generations.”

So where is this work done? Dr. Papa explained that most of their studies are conducted “at the Department of Biology at the UPR-Rio Piedras, the Botanical Garden, and the Molecular Research Science building.” The Botanical Garden was a really neat place to visit. I learned a lot about butterflies and saw some beautiful insects! There are many botanical gardens all over the world, where many children can experience some aspect of Dr. Papa’s work.  

Growing up, Dr. Papa was interested in science. He spent a lot of time “collecting insects and looking at their behaviors and shapes.” It was his “love for nature and biodiversity” that made him want to pursue a science career. He shared that the best thing about being a scientist is that you can “always do new things and make new discoveries.” Most of all, he enjoys “the interaction with young students.”

As I was leaving to head back home, I asked Dr. Papa if he had any advice for kids. He replied, “Understand the beauty and delicate balance of nature, and learn to respect and protect the diversity of life forms.” Well said!

Headshot of Riccardo Papa

Fun Facts:

Favorite pastime/hobby: Surfing, paddle boarding, sailing, and painting

Favorite food: Pasta (I am Italian)

Very interesting project you were a part of: Discovery of the molecules that create colors on butterfly wings

About your family: Very international: Wife from California, son and dog from Puerto Rico, and me from Italy. We speak three languages in the house: English, Spanish, and Italian.