Rosa Menéndez López, who was the first woman to chair the CSIC until June 2022, is back. In her scientific home, at INCAR de La Corredoria (Carbon Science and Technology Institute), where she has practically developed her entire career, she has returned to what she likes most: research work. Gone are the five years of “frantic” activity that she had at the head of the largest scientific body in Spain, with a team of more than 13,000 people and more than 120 centers. “My return to INCAR was breathing, feeling peace and tranquility. In the presidency of the CSIC I worked with all my soul. The day to day was crazy, although I always conducted it well, with joy. I have great memories of that, but I don’t miss it. a stage that is over, we have to turn the page”. And now he is “happy”.

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Menéndez, in the laboratory, with young researchers Miguel Gómez, María González and Álvaro Cuevas. | square john

Since his resignation and the appointment of Eloísa del Pino as the new president of the Superior Council for Scientific Research, the Asturian chemist has wanted to stay away from the media spotlight. It is now, eight months later, that Rosa Menéndez gives her first interview and does it with LA NUEVA ESPAÑA. Without erasing the smile and at the age of 67, she says that, for now, no retirement. At least not until 70. “I can’t go from everything to nothing,” she jokes. Clear proof that she has returned to the forefront of research is that she presented, together with Zoraida González, a project for the national plan for chemical sensors and water pollution.

Termination as President

The Council of Ministers of June 21, 2022 took the surprise decision to remove Rosa Menéndez from the CSIC. The Asturian was in charge for almost five years, since November 2017. She left through the back door without making a sound. “It was unexpected, but in a high office you have to be prepared for these things. They are not positions for life. During that time, I had four different ministers and I am deeply grateful for the trust they have placed in me. Also, except Emilio Lora, no one was older than me.” Her life philosophy is “fight and not give up, always look ahead”.

“The devil Wears Prada”

The activity in the presidency of the CSIC was “frantic”, like that feature film starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. A “madness” of meetings, events, receptions… “It was total and absolute dedication, 24 hours a day, weekends.” But the chemistry, natural from Cudillero, was happy. “All my life I felt the need to feel useful and in management I felt very useful. I say it’s like an NGO, because you work for others.”

What are you most proud of?

The Asturian scientist had to manage the pandemic, the La Palma volcano, the integration of the OPIs – the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), the National Institute of Agro-Food Research (INIA) and the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME). )–. Even she herself is surprised to remember that agitation. “The pandemic was very complicated, there was a lot of political and media pressure. Common sense had to prevail and not get into political battles. The CSIC played a very important role.” None of this would have been possible, she comments, without her team, “good professionals and good people, with extensive experience in management”.

Chemistry is particularly proud of one project: the launch of interdisciplinary thematic platforms, scientific alliances between centers, of which more than twenty are in operation today. One of them, the energy transition, is coordinated precisely from Asturias, from INCAR. “The strength of the CSIC is that it is interdisciplinary. The creation of these platforms allowed some centers to open up to others to solve specific challenges. When they collaborate, the results are better. In addition, they transfer knowledge to the company and cover very diverse areas: from clean energy generation to healthy aging”.

Other milestones of his mandate were raising more than 100 million euros in initiatives under the European recovery plan, and launching 14 projects to build new buildings for institutes or expand existing ones. One of them is that of the Instituto de Laticinios de Asturias (IPLA), whose team will move from Villaviciosa to La Corredoria at the end of next summer. During his presidency, he says, the Cajal International Neuroscience Center in Madrid and the Joint Institute for Biodiversity Research (IMIB) were also created in Mieres.

Your return to Asturias

At INCAR, Rosa Menéndez is quite an institution. Now she is more of a researcher, but in the laboratories the admiration is palpable. “On my return, I felt so loved and valued,” she says. She is focused, once again, on her scientific work, although hers, as a senior researcher, is not messing around in the lab, but managing people and projects in the office. He is part of the composite materials research group, made up of around 17 researchers and led by Ricardo Santamaría. “Returning to INCAR meant breathing, feeling peace and tranquility.” Return, in short, to its origins, to that scientist specializing in carbon and graphene materials for use in biomedicine and energy. “I found an INCAR that grew in staff and with many young people in the laboratories, it is very important.”

His return also meant a reunion with his homeland. Mother of two children, Alejandro and Laura, the scientist loves “the green of Asturias and the roughness of the sea and the cliffs of its western coast”. Now he will be able to be close to his mother, who is almost 90 years old, who lives in Corollos’ hometown (Cudillero).

a pioneer

Rosa Menéndez still travels the country – she already did when she was in office – to give lectures. The Asturian opened the way and they continue to recognize him. A week ago she was awarded by the Zaballos Foundation at the Intercontinental Hotel in Madrid. There’s no room for more prizes in your showcase. The most special, the DuPont Science Award, the Spanish Association of Materials, the Prize for Chemical Excellence from the General Council of Faculties of Chemistry in Spain and… those of his native Asturias, the Silver Medal of the Principality and the title of Cudillero’s Favorite Daughter.

“I continue to be very active with round tables, conferences, courses… I never get bored”, he says, laughing. This week she will be at a round table organized by the Madrid Businesswomen Association. “I like to tell my experience and that what I did serves another purpose.” To inspire, for example, the new generations. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, we can do the same.” She left her mark. “I never thought my position would have an impact, but now I see it.”