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Vanessa Rivera Quiñones Makes Mathematical Models

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Meet Dr. Vanessa Rivera Quiñones

Mathematical Biologist

This Project:

Studying how parasites spread

You can watch an interview with Vanessa at Meet a Mathematician.

Vanessa Rivera Quiñones says you do not have to study math to do math. It will turn up in most things that you do. But mathematicians don’t just do math. They want to find out how things connect to each other. They like finding patterns. They want to find out how all those connections works together. One of her favorite quotes about mathematicians is this:

“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns.” - G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology (London 1941)

Vanessa studies how disease spreads in little water fleas called Daphnia. When these water fleas are healthy, they look see-through. You can actually see what they have eaten. If they are eating algae, they do not get sick. But if they eat fungi spores, they will probably die. Fungi spores grow into fungi. When they do, the water flea is easier to see. Fish are more likely to eat them. But worse than that, the spores are parasites. They live inside the water flea and depend on it for food to grow.

Once Vanessa makes a model like the one above, they use computers to get an estimate the size of each of the groups. They want to see how the numbers change over time.

Daphnia are tiny, about the size of a sharpened crayon tip. But they have a big impact on our fresh water lakes and ponds. They are the bottom of the food chain, so lots of animals eat them. And they clean the lake water because they filter it to find scraps to eat. We all want our clean water in our lakes, for ourselves and for the other animals living there.

“There are many ways to be a mathematician. You can follow many career paths. The most important thing is to find what brings you joy.” Vanessa Rivera Quiñones

Vanessa says that you must find out what makes life better for you and for others. That is the path for you.

Photo Credits

All photos on this page by permission of Vanessa Rivera Quiñones

You can learn more about making math models in the these books . . .


The rabbit problem models a rabbit population and how it grows and grows and grows . . .

How does 1+1 = 288? A family of rabbits soon supplies the answer in this funny story! Hop along to Fibonacci's Field and follow Lonely and Chalk Rabbit through a year as they try to cope with their fast expanding brood and handle a different seasonal challenge each month, from the cold of February to the wet of April and the heat of July. You can find Emily Gravett's other books at her website.


If you want to find your path into math, try this book. It unpacks how math is an essential part of our everyday life in ways that you never thought of. Full of crazy facts, magic tricks, and mathematical brainteasers and beautiful illustrations show you that math is interesting, fun, and not intimidating at all!

Ever wondered where math originated from? This fantastic educational book unpacks all the curious questions that your child has about math including intriguing historical stories that explore the often-surprising origins of math that we use in our daily lives.

Math in our daily lives is used in many things that might not even seem that obvious.

. . . and visit these websites to

learn about lake ecology.


Freshwater Habitat explained by National Geographic

How these Water Fleas can save your water quality and life

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