Lea Michel Research Group


groupThe Michel Research Group was established in 2009. The Principal Investigator, Dr. Lea Vacca Michel, is an Associate Professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at RIT. Dr. Michel is a biophysicist by training and currently works in the fields of protein biochemistry, structural biology, and immunology. Since 2009, the Michel Group has had over 70 research students (undergraduate and MS). Dr. Michel recruits and inspires a diverse group of research students, and she works hard to create an inclusive research environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued.

About Dr. Michel


Lea Vacca Michel, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Currently, her research is focused on the role of proteins in disease. Dr. Michel is the Vice Chair of the Women in Science (WISe) program at RIT, Co-Director of the Rochester Project SEED program, Vice-Chair of the Rochester ACS Women Chemists Committee (WCC), and Director of the Research Strand for the HHMI-funded Inclusive Excellence program at RIT. She strives to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities (including those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing) in science and math. Dr. Michel is also the Director of Experiments for the SMASH Experience for Middle School Girls, led by Dr. Kara Maki (School of Mathematical Sciences). Dr. Michel was recently featured in an article that appeared in Nature (Nature 558, 149-151, 2018).

Education and Positions

  • B.A. in Physics and Math (Magna Cum Laude), Colgate University, 2002
  • M.S. and Ph.D. in Biophysics, University of Rochester, 2007
  • Adjunct Professor, SUNY Brockport and Colgate University, Spring 2007
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, Cornell University, 2007-2008
  • Contract Scientist, Kelly Services (Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics), 2008-2009
  • Assistant Professor, School of Chemistry and Materials Science, RIT, 2009-2015
  • Associate Professor, School of Chemistry and Materials Science, RIT, 2015-Present

Learn more about Dr. Lea Vacca Michel at her official RIT directory page.


Sepsis project

Sepsis is a disease caused by the effects of a systemic infection accompanied by host hyper-immune response. Gram-negative sepsis (GNS) accounts for just under half of the overall cases of bacterial sepsis, which is currently one of the leading causes of death in hospitals. One pivotal clinical study demonstrated that human antisera raised against a J5 mutant of Escherichia coli (E. coli) reduced death in human sepsis patients in half. Later, IgG from that antisera was shown to bind several E. coli lipoproteins, including peptidoglycan associated lipoprotein (Pal). Since those studies, Pal has been shown to be released from E. coli in several animal models of GNS and to cause an inflammatory response and death in certain animal models, suggesting that Pal may be a bacterial mediator of E. coli sepsis. The Michel Research Group uses biochemical and biophysical methods to better understand how and why Pal is released from E. coli during sepsis, with the long-term goal of using Pal as a biomarker for early diagnosis of sepsis.  This work is part of a collaboration between the Michel Research Group and the research group of Dr. Judith Hellman, Professor & Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care at UC San Francisco.

Patent Pending: Sepsis Diagnosis via PAL (Peptidoglycan Associated Lipoprotein) Detection in Urine



Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) is a commensal in the human nasopharynx and the cause of pneumonia, meningitis, sinusitis, acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and acute otitis media (AOM). AOM (ear infection) is the most common ailment for which antibiotics are prescribed in the US. With the emergence of new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria, finding an effective and broad coverage vaccine to protect against AOM-causing pathogens has become a priority. The Michel Research Group employs a biochemical approach toward evaluating conserved outer membrane proteins from NTHi as vaccine candidates. The Michel Research Group also developed an NTHi AOM model in C57BL/6J mice (published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, 2018) to test vaccine candidates. This work is part of a long-standing collaboration between the Michel Research Group and the research group of Dr. Michael Pichichero, Director of the Research Institute at Rochester General Hospital.


Gamma B crystallin is the bovine homolog to the human lens gamma D crystallin protein. Abnormalities, such as single point mutations, in crystallin proteins have been implicated in cataracts, a condition where loss of protein solubility in the eye lens leads to partial or total blindness due to lens cloudiness. In addition, changes in interactions between crystallin proteins due to altered electrostatic effects can contribute to phase separation in the lens. In order to better understand these protein-protein interactions, it is necessary to first describe the probable charge patterns on the proteins. These charge patterns greatly impact inter-protein interactions and therefore have an effect on liquid-liquid phase separation in the lens. The Michel Research Group collaborates with the Thurston Research Group (PI of the project: Dr. George Thurston, Physics) to describe the charge patterns on gamma B crystallin and predict those charge probabilities at low protein concentrations; to measure the acidity of individual gamma B crystallin residues using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and other computational methods; and to use other NMR experiments to better understand how and under what conditions the gamma B crystallins interact with each other.

Nanoscience-Enabled Antimicrobial Material- Collaboration with Dr. Casey Miller (Associate Dean, COS, RIT) and Dr. Kristen Repa (Postdoctoral Researcher, College of Science, RIT)

An Automated Platform for Digital DNA Synthesis: Enabling low-cost production of long DNA products for synthetic biology- Collaboration with Dr. Michael Schertzer (Assistant Professor, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, RIT)

Elucidating the role of outer membrane vesicles in sepsis- Collaboration with Dr. Anna Konovalova (Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Texas at Houston)



Michel LV, *Gallardo L, Konovalova A, *Bauer M, *Jackson N, *Zavorin M, *McNamara C, *Pierce J, *Cheng S, *Snyder E, Hellman J, Pichichero ME (2020) Ampicillin triggers the release of Pal in toxic vesicles from Escherichia coli, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, in press

Michel LV, Kaur R, *Zavorin M, Pryharski K, Khan MN, *LaClair C, *O’Neil M, Xu Q, Pichichero ME (2018) Intranasal coinfection model allows for assessment of protein vaccines against nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae in mice, Journal of Medical Microbiology 67: 1527-1532.

*Sgheiza V, *Novick B, *Stanton S, *Pierce J, *Kalmeta B, *Holmquist MF, *Grimaldi K, Bren KL, Michel LV (2017) Covalent bonding of heme to protein prevents heme capture by nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae, FEBS Open Bio 7: 1778-1783.

Gehret AU, Trussell JW, Michel LV (2017) Approaching Undergraduate Research with Students who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, Journal of Science Education for Students with Disabilities 20 (1): Article 4.

Michel LV, *Shaw J, *MacPherson V, *Barnard D, *Bettinger J, *D’Arcy B, Surendran N, Hellman J, Pichichero ME (2015) Dual orientation of the outer membrane lipoprotein Pal in Escherichia coliMicrobiology 161: 1251-1259.

Michel LV, *Snyder J, *Schmidt R, *Milillo J, *Grimaldi K, *Kalmeta B, Khan N, Sharma S, Wright LK, Pichichero ME (2013) Dual orientation of the outer membrane lipoprotein P6 of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzaeJ Bacteriology 195: 3252-3259.

Craig PA, Michel LV, Bateman RC (2013) A Survey of Educational Uses of Molecular Visualization Freeware, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 41: 193-205.

Peterson JE, Zurakowski D, Italiano JE, Michel LV, Connors S, Oenick M, D’Amato RJ, Klement GL, Folkman MJ (2012) VEGF, PF4 and PDGF are elevated in platelets of colorectal cancer patients, Angiogenesis 15: 265-273.

Michel LV, *Kalmeta B, *McCreary M, *Snyder J, Craig P, Pichichero ME (2011) Vaccine candidate P6 of nontypable Haemophilus influenzae is not a transmembrane protein based on protein structural analysis, Vaccine 29: 1624-1627.

Chang A, Kaur R, Michel LV, Casey JR, Pichichero ME (2011) Haemophilus influenzae vaccine candidate outer membrane protein P6 is not conserved in all strains, Hum Vaccines 7: 102-105.
Peterson JE, Zurakowski D, Italiano JE, Michel LV, Fox L, Klement GL, Folkman J (2010) Normal ranges of angiogenesis regulatory proteins in human platelets, Am J Hematology 85: 487-493.

Michel LV, Bren KL (2008) Submolecular unfolding units of Pseudomonas aeruginosa cytochrome c551J Biol Inorg Chem 13: 837-845.

Ye T, Kaur R, Senguin FT, Michel LV, Bren KL, Elliott SJ (2008) Methionine ligand lability of type I cytochromes c: Detection of ligand loss using protein film voltammetry, J Am Chem Soc. 130: 6682-6683.

Michel LV, Ye T, Bowman, SEJ, Levin BD, Hahn MA, Russell BS, Elliott SJ, Bren KL (2007) Heme attachment motif mobility tunes cytochrome c redox potential, Biochemistry 46: 11753-11760.

Parks B, Vacca L, Rumberger E, Hendrickson D, Christou G (2003) Effect of mechanical stress on the line width of single photon absorptions in Mn12-acetate, Physica B 329: 1181-1182.

*RIT Students


International Application published under the patent cooperation treaty (World Intellectual Property Organization); Michel LV, Hellman J (14 May 2020) Diagnosing sepsis by detecting peptidoglycan associated lipoprotein (Pal) in urine, International Publication Number WO 2020/097499 A1.

Patent Pending: Michel LV, Hellman J (November 8, 2018) Diagnosing sepsis by detecting peptidoglycan associated lipoprotein (Pal) in urine (Application No. 62/757211).

Pichichero M, Khan MN, Kaur R, Sharma S, Casey J, Michel L (Accepted August 11, 2015) US Patent 9101568: Compositions and methods related to P6.

Awards and Honors

  • Rochester Museum and Science Center STEM Education Award, presented to WISe (2018)
  • Travel Award, 2018 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (2018)
  • Received the COS Outstanding Contributions to the Community award, RIT (2018) 
  • 2017 Edwina Award, RIT, Center for Women and Gender (2017)
  • Salutes to Excellence Award, from the Rochester Section American Chemical Society (2016)
  • Travel Award, 2016 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (2016)
  • COS Advancing Diversity Award, RIT (2016)
  • Received INSIGHT Into Diversity’s Inspiring Women in STEM national award (2015)
  • Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching Finalist, RIT (2015-2016)
  • College of Science Outstanding Student Mentor Award, RIT (2014)
  • College of Science Leadership Award, RIT (2013)
  • Featured College of Science faculty member, RIT’s Annual Faculty Scholarship Report (2013)
  • College of Science Helpful Citizen Award, RIT (2012)
  • Appointed to the National Institutes of Health Early Career Reviewer Program (2011)
  • Invited to attend the NIH National Graduate Student Research Festival (2006)
  • William F. Neuman Award, University of Rochester (2006)
  • Nominated to Sigma Pi Sigma, National Physics Honor Society, Colgate University (2006)
  • Elon Huntington Hooker Graduate Fellowship, University of Rochester (2005-2006)
  • ACS Women Chemists Committee Travel Award, sponsored by Eli Lilly & Company (2005)
  • The Leon L. Miller Graduate Fellowship, University of Rochester (2002)
  • Nominated to Phi Eta Sigma, Colgate University (1999)



Nuclera Nucleics Ltd. An Automated Platform for Digital DNA Synthesis: Enabling low-cost production of long DNA products for synthetic biology (Co-PI) ($51,183) January 22, 2019 – January 21, 2020.

HHMI Undergraduate Science Education – Inclusive Excellence Grants 2017 (Co-PI). September 2017 – August 2022 ($1,000,000).

NIH R15. Phase Boundaries and Liquid Structure of Concentrated Eye Lens Protein Mixtures (Co-PI). September 2013 – August 2017 ($361,036).

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation: Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences. Quiet Chemistry: Working with Deaf Students in a Chemistry Research Laboratory (PI). September 2013 – December 2016 ($31,600).


RIT: FEAD grant. Nanoscience-Enabled Antimicrobial Material (PI). July 1, 2019 – January 31, 2020 ($6,000).

RIT: PLIG. Development and Implementation of Retrieval Cues in Organic Chemistry, and Evaluation of their Effects on Knowledge Transfer (Co-PI). March 29, 2019 – August 21, 2020 ($5,000).

RIT: NIH Grant Writing Bootcamp. Implicating Pal in Gram-Negative Sepsis (PI). May 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019 ($10,000).

RIT: FEAD grant. Probing the Pal-Peptidoglycan Interactions and their Role in Pal Release (PI). September 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018 ($5,500).

RIT: ADVANCE Connect Grants Program. Formal Evaluation of WISe (PI). May 2017 – March 2018 ($5,000).

RIT: Ronald D. Dodge Memorial Faculty Grant. Funding to support a student research assistant on the Dreyfus Quiet Chemistry project (PI). 2016-2017 ($1000).

RIT: ADVANCE Connect Grants Program. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bias (PI). June 1, 2016 – May 31, 2017 ($1,950).

RIT: ADVANCE Connect Grants Program. WISe Distinguished Speaker Series (Co-PI). June 1, 2016 – May 31, 2018 ($6,800).

RIT: FEAD grant. Implicating Dual oriented Pal in Gram-negative sepsis (PI). July 1, 2015 – January 31, 2016 ($6,000).

RIT: ADVANCE Connect Grants Program. From WISe to WISE: Networking for Women in Science and Engineering (Co-PI). June 1, 2015 – May 31, 2016 ($8,100).

RIT: ADVANCE Connect Grants Program. WISe Networking and Leadership Initiatives (PI). June 2014 – December 2014 ($10,200).

RIT: Provost’s Faculty Mentoring Grant. Series of Women Faculty Lunches/Discussions (PI). January – December 2012 ($1900).

RIT: Dean’s Research Initiation Grant. Testing for Lipoprotein Dual Orientation in the Outer Membrane of Gram-Negative Bacteria (PI). May 2012 – April 2013 ($15,000).

RIT/RGH: SEED grant. Searching for an alternative vaccine candidate for nontypable Haemophilus influenzae (PI). February 2011 – January 2012 ($20,000).

RIT: Grant Writing Boot Camp. Evaluating P6 as one of the leading vaccine candidates for Nontypable Haemophilus influenzae (PI). March 2010 – February 2011 ($5,000).

Research Students

Group photo Sep 2019

  • Niaya Jackson
  • Maha Khokhar
  • Grace McGinnity
  • Aleea Wrightstone
  • Jacey Phillips
  • Zach Williams
  • Tyler Pugeda
  • Anna Kasper
  • Natalie Labbe
  • Milena Dinu
  • Isabelle Pilo
  • Wilford Burke
  • Katie O'Neill Knasick
  • Callum Smith
  • Lucas Cirrincione
  • Janai Perdue
  • Jonathan Dominguez

MS students in italics

Graduates 2016

92% of Dr. Michel’s research student graduates (not including brief interns) have or are pursuing higher degrees in science or medicine, with students enrolled in or graduated from PhD programs, MD/DO programs, PharmD programs, Nursing programs, MS programs, PA programs, and Law School (for patent law). Dr. Michel’s former research students are currently enrolled in PhD programs at some of the world’s leading research universities, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Yale, University of Rochester, SUNY Buffalo, Case Western, Brown, UC San Diego, Penn State, University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic, The Ohio State University, Boston University, SUNY Upstate, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and several students received NIH, NSF, or HHMI graduate research fellowships at their current institutions. Several of Dr. Michel’s research student graduates are now doing amazing work in academic research labs, government labs, and the biotech industry.

  • Dr. Jennifer Milillo (2009-2011)
  • Nathaniel Huddleston (Summer 2010)
  • Arooj Iqbal (2010-2011)
  • Dr. Danielle Weekes (2010-2011)
  • Dr. Breanna Kalmeta (2009-2012)
  • Dr. Kyle Grimaldi (2010-2012)
  • Dr. Anthony Mangan (2010-2012)
  • Dr. Melody Holmquist (2011-2012)
  • Dr. Joy Snyder (2009-2013)
  • Rachel Schmidt (2010-2013)
  • Bethany Novick (2011-2014)
  • John Bettinger (2011-2014)
  • Victoria MacPherson (2013-2014)
  • Valerie Sgheiza (2012-2015)
  • Dr. Juliana Shaw (2012-2015)
  • Dr. Emily Newman (2012-2015)
  • David Barnard (2012-2015)
  • Jeff Shaul (2013-2015)
  • Casey Reulbach (2013-2015)
  • Sanjana Kumar (Summer 2014)
  • Alexis Russell (Summer 2014)
  • Rushka Kallicharan (Summer 2015)
  • Kasey Morrow (2013-2016)
  • Angel Payan (2013-2016)
  • Breanne Kisselstein (2014-2016)
  • Kaylee Mathews (2014-2016)
  • Bethany Novick (2014-2016)
  • Brooke D’Arcy (2014-2017)
  • Katharine Umphred-Wilson (2014-2017)
  • John Zanet (2014-2017)
  • Shivani Phadke (2014-2017)
  • Nicole Fernandez (2016-2017)
  • Aaron Fadden (2016-2017)
  • Kara Farquharson (2014-2018)
  • Sarah Stanton (2014-2018)
  • Carlie McNamara (2014-2018)
  • Jeanetta Pierce (2014-2018)
  • Mark Zavorin (2016-2018)
  • Grace McGinnity (2017-2018, HS intern)
  • Victoria Popov (2018, One semester)
  • Emma Snyder (2015-2018)
  • Nicole Pannullo (2017-2018)
  • Meghan O’Neil (2015-2019)
  • Ciara LaClair (2015-2019)
  • Leslie Gallardo (2017-2019)
  • Aaron Fadden (2017-2019)
  • Karett Cooper (Summer 2019, HS intern)
  • Julia Faraone (2016-2020)
  • Abby Melake (2019-2020)
  • Morgan Bauer (2016-2020)
  • Sean Lewis (2016-2020)
  • Xinbei Liu (2016-2020)
  • Zachary Ward (2018-2020)
  • Kara Farquharson (2018-2020)
  • Olivia Fraser (2018-2020)
  • Daihlia Beckford (2019-2020)
  • Susan Cheng (2019-2020)
  • Eva Earnest (2018-2020)

MS students in italics

Michel Group Alumni

Graduates from the Michel Research Group go on to do AMAZING things! Check out this video of Where They Are Now (this will be updated regularly).

Click here for video



Current Courses (Semester System)

  • Biochemistry I  
  • Biochemistry II
  • Biochemistry Laboratory Techniques
  • Chemical Connections
  • Biochemistry for Health Sciences
  • Advanced Proteins
  • General Analytical Chemistry Lab

Old Courses (Quarter System)

  • Biochemistry: Metabolism
  • Biochemistry: Conformation and Dynamics
  • Biochemistry: Laboratory Techniques
  • Biochemistry Freshman Symposium
  • Circular Dichroism lecture series
  • NMR spectroscopy independent study
  • Chemical Literature

Photos and Videos



Quick overview of the Michel Research Lab.



Dr. Michel's introduction video to her online lectures during the spring of 2020.

RIT and racism


The killing of George Floyd and protests around the world against systemic injustice and inequality have prompted the RIT community to more closely examine its role in working to end racism. Dr. Michel participated in a conversation to reinforce that Black Lives Matter. University leadership has pledged that the conversation, no matter how uncomfortable, must continue.




During our first (virtual) group meeting of Fall 2020, the group created this Wordle for our lab. Note, the diet (Dr) pepper (my students know me so well). Not sure about "poisoning," but I was happy to see the words "inclusive" and "welcoming."

Group meeting 2020

Group meetings in the spring of 2020 were very different from group meetings of the past. Here is a photo from our last group event of the semester on Zoom.

Senior Gift

Michel Lab Alumna, Katharine Umphred-Wilson ('17), is not only a talented scientist (PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences, Case Western University), but also a very talented artist. She made Dr. Michel's vision come true when she created this beautiful drawing for the Michel Lab 2020 Graduates.


Here is Dr. Michel's poem "Oh the Places You'll Go: RIT Chemistry Edition" that she wrote (adapted from the Dr. Seuss poem) and dedicated to the RIT School of Chemistry and Materials Science Class of 2020.


In March 2020, we closed down the Michel Lab due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a sad and very quiet day in the lab.


The Michel Research Group celebrates the end of the fall semester with a holiday party at Color Me Mine (we found out that several Michel group members are excellent artists)!


Michel Research Group 10 Year Reunion Party! Current and former research group members celebrate 10 years of the Michel lab!


Group photo (October 2019)

summer 2019

Michel Research Group- Summer 2019


Graduates 2019

Michel Research Group Graduates 2019

MS students

Masters Graduates 2019

Leslie and Aaron

Leslie and Aaron give their MS thesis presentations

ASBMB 2019

Michel Group at Universal Studios (ASBMB meeting 2019)

March 2019

Michel Research Group Photo (March 2019)

Signing in the lab

Nicole and Kara signing in the lab

Summer 2018

Michel Research Group and Inclusive Excellence students can't escape the Locked room

Spring 2018

Michel Research Group at Radio Social



Jane Elliott

Lea and Scott Michel meet Jane Elliott!


The Michel Group takes over Dave and Buster's


Michel Research Group at ASBMB 2017


RIT at ABRCMS 2017


Group photo Spring 2017


Lilac Fest 2017 (check out the photo bomber)


Michel group at RGH Summer 2017


Selfie outside the mouse room at RGH


Holiday Lunch 2017


Group photo in lab 2016




Michel Lab Graduates 2016


Angel's grad present from Dr. Michel


Group photo 2016


Another group photo 2016


End of the year BBQ


ACS meeting in Boston


Graduates 2015


Group trip to the zoo


Summer group 2015


ASBMB 2015


ASBMB in San Diego


Go RIT Tigers!


Michel Group Picnic 2014


Graduation 2014


Dr Michel and Dr Tan


Graduation 2013


ASBMB 2012


ASBMB 2012


Look who we ran into at ASBMB 2012- Michel Group Alumna, Danielle (now Dr. Weekes)!


Michel Group 2012


RIT Summer Symposium 2012

Michel and Tan

Michel and Tan groups at the Zoo 2012


Graduation 2012



Just hanging with Gary Sinise in DC (ASBMB meeting 2011)


ASBMB 2011


Bowling with the Michel and Tan groups (and Autumn!)


Group photo shoot


Summer 2011


RIT at local ACS Undergraduate Research Meeting



Michel Group Summer 2010


Scott and Lea Michel with their two children, Laralyn and Charlie


Niagara Falls 2019


Lea is a huge Gilmore Girls fan- can you spot her in this GG festival selfie?

Fathers day

Father's Day Gift 2019


Lea's twin sister, Meredith Vacca, is running for New York State Supreme Court Justice in the 7th Judicial District!


Laralyn and Charlie heart