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Miriam Rossi Professor of Chemistry on the Mary Landon Sague Chair

Miriam Rossi went to Hunter College in New York and obtained her PhD from The Johns Hopkins University. Afterwards, before coming to Vassar College, she spent some time at the Institute for Cancer Research of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Her research is concerned with the relationship between the structure and function of molecules, particularly those having biological activity. These include natural plant products that show anti-tumor activity and others that are strong food antioxidants such as curcumin and resveratrol. The principal technique she uses is single crystal X-ray diffraction, and she is co-author of a leading text in this area. She is a member of the US National Committee on Crystallography and the International Union of Crystallography Commission on Education.

  • BA, Hunter College; MA, PhD, Johns Hopkins University
  • At Vassar since 1982


Research and Academic Interests

  • X-ray crystallography of biologically active compounds


  • CHEM 121. Chemical Fundamentals

Selected Publications

Miriam Rossi, Francesco Caruso, Lorraine Kwok, Grace Lee, Alessio Caruso, Fabio Gionfra, Elena Candelotti, Stuart L. Belli, Nora Molasky, Kathleen M. Raley-Susman, Stefano Leone, Tomáš Filipský, Daniela Tofani, Jens Pedersen, Sandra Incerpi: Protection by extra virgin olive oil against oxidative stress in vitro and in vivo. Chemical and biological studies on the health benefits due to a major component of the Mediterranean diet. PLoS ONE 12/2017; 12(12):e0189341., DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0189341

Francesco Caruso, Sarah Paumier, Miriam Rossi: X‐ray crystal structure of embelin and its DFT scavenging of superoxide radical. Journal of Computational Chemistry 08/2017;, DOI:10.1002/jcc.24915

Alessio Caruso, Miriam Rossi, Christopher Gahn, Francesco Caruso: A structural and computational study of citrulline in biochemical reactions. Structural Chemistry 07/2017; 28(4)., DOI:10.1007/s11224-017-0996-x

Francesco Caruso, Riccardo Pettinari, Miriam Rossi, Elena Monti, Marzia Bruna Gariboldi, Fabio Marchetti, Claudio Pettinari, Alessio Caruso, Modukuri V. Ramani, Gottumukkala V. Subbaraju: The in vitro antitumor activity of arene-ruthenium(II) curcuminoid complexes improves when decreasing curcumin polarity. Journal of inorganic biochemistry 06/2016; 162., DOI:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2016.06.002

Shaibal Banerjee, Saikat Sinha, Padmanava Pradhan, Alessio Caruso, Daniel Liebowitz, Damon Parrish, Miriam Rossi, Barbara Zajc: Regiospecifically fluorinated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons via Julia–Kocienski olefination and oxidative photocyclization. Effect of fluorine atom substitution on molecular shape. The Journal of Organic Chemistry 03/2016; 81(10)., DOI:10.1021/acs.joc.5b02580

Manasi Jiwrajka, Alexandra Phillips, Matt Butler, Miriam Rossi, Jennifer M. Pocock: The plant-derived chalcone 2,2′,5′-trihydroxychalcone provides neuroprotection against toll-like receptor 4 triggered inflammation in microglia. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity 01/2016; 2016(3):1-10., DOI:10.1155/2016/6301712

Sully Espinoza, Pablo Arce, Enrique San-Martín, Luis Lemus, Juan Costamagna, Liliana Farías, Miriam Rossi, Francesco Caruso, Juan Guerrero: The crystal structure of mono- and di-nuclear copper(I) complexes with substituted triphenylphosphine ligands. Polyhedron 01/2015; 85:405-411., DOI:10.1016/j.poly.2014.08.055

Francesco Caruso, Miriam Rossi, Alessio Caruso: Correlation between DFT calculated and X-ray structures from CSD, for Cu(II) and Cu(I) coordination spheres when coordinated to four acyclic amine ligands. A reconsideration of copper(II) planarity. Journal of Coordination Chemistry 11/2014; 67(23-24):3932-3939., DOI:10.1080/00958972.2014.964222

Francesco Caruso, Elena Monti, Julian Matthews, Miriam Rossi, Marzia Bruna Gariboldi, Claudio Pettinari, Riccardo Pettinari, Fabio Marchetti: Synthesis, characterization, and antitumor activity of water-soluble (Arene)ruthenium(II) derivatives of 1,3-dimethyl-4-acylpyrazolon-5-ato ligands. First example of ru(arene)(ligand) antitumor species involving simultaneous Ru-N7(guanine) bonding and ligand intercalation to DNA. Inorganic Chemistry 03/2014; 53(7)., DOI:10.1021/ic403170y

Grants, Fellowships, Honors, Awards

Grant for ‘Progetti coerenti con il Tema di EXPO Milano 2015 “Nutrire il pianeta, Energia per la vita” CUP n. F83D15000160009’ from Regione Lazio, Italy (2015)

Fulbright Senior Scholar Award (2008)

The Mary Landon Sague Chair in Chemistry (2000)

Mid-Hudson ACS Texaco Research Award (1993)


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Photo: Karl Rabe/Vassar College
Photo: Karl Rabe/Vassar College

Miriam Rossi was born in Italy and emigrated with her parents to New York City. She received a BA in chemistry from Hunter College, working in the laboratory of Professor David Beveridge, and a PhD in inorganic chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, in the laboratory of Professor Tom Kistenmacher (and with lots of input by Prof. Luigi Marzilli). She started as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Jenny P. Glusker at the Fox Chase Cancer Center and remained for a few years before joining the faculty at Vassar College, where she has risen through the ranks to full Professor. She is dedicated to both research and teaching of chemistry.

Miriam’s primary research interest is the use of X-ray crystallography to study the relationship between the structure and function of small molecules having biological functions. Many are natural plant products that show anti-tumor activity; others are strong food antioxidants such as curcumin and resveratrol. She has recently published on the antioxidant activity of Italian and California extra virgin olive oils. She actively collaborates with researchers from Italy, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and India. Her work includes Vassar undergraduates and she has over 130 publications in leading international and national journals.

She is active in several professional societies (American Chemical Society, American Crystallographic Association, and Sigma Xi) and is a member of the International Union of Crystallography Commission on Education.

Research Interests

  • Synthesis and structural characterization of metal complexes produced using natural products. These are then tested for effectiveness against disease states such as anti-tumor, anti-viral, and anti-trypanosomal activity.
  • Structural characterization of natural products found in plants, fruits or vegetables and having beneficial health effects such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents. Examples include flavones; chalcones; coumarins; hispolones; essential ingredients in spices; non-essential amino acids (citrulline); ellagic acid; embelin.
  • Characterization of a beneficial mechanism of action shown by food constituents or food products such as ethnopharmacological products, olive oil, and chocolate.
  • Understanding the role of molecular structure and the chemistry of aging in making dried and aged foods such as Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma.
  • Basic understanding and characterization of weak intermolecular interactions that have eluded characterization as seen through electron density results obtained using high-quality X-ray diffraction data.
  • Understanding the role of metal complexes in paint products used during Renaissance and Medieval periods.