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Lab Members

Meet our people!


Sara "Sai" C. Zapico, PhD, ABC-MB, C-MDI

Principal Investigator

Sai is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at NJIT. She is also a research collaborator at Smithsonian Institution. She received her PhD in biochemistry, with a focus in biomedical sciences from the University Institute of Oncology of Principado de Asturias (IUOPA) in Spain, and her Master’s in Forensic Anthropology and Genetics from the University of Granada, in Spain. After that, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Smithsonian Institution and an associate at the forensic unit from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, completing her postdoctoral training with other visiting scientist positions. Before coming to NJIT, Sai was the graduate program director of the Professional Science Master’s in Forensic Science at Florida International University. Her research interests focus on the application of biochemical techniques to forensic science issues, like age-at-death estimation and the determination of post-mortem interval, with implications in aging and biomedical research.

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Leticia Olga Rubio Lamia, MD, PhD

Fulbright Visiting Scholar

Dr. Leticia Rubio is an Associate Professor in the Department of Legal and Forensic Medicine at the University of Malaga (Spain). She is a medical doctor with a specialty in Forensic Medicine. She also worked as a Medical Examiner for the Ministry of Justice in Spain. Her PhD focused on the study of DNA degradation during the postmortem interval. She is doing a research stay in the Interdisciplinary Forensic and Biomedical Sciences Lab headed by Dr. Sara C. Zapico. She has joined this laboratory as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar with the aim to study postmortem interval estimation using vibrational spectroscopy techniques in human teeth. We hope to obtain interesting results that may help to solve this  challenge in forensic practice. Leticia is excited to collaborate with Dr. Zapico at the NJIT and grateful to have this amazing experience.


Francisco Medina, PhD.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Francisco Medina is a Biotechnology Engineer who has worked as a Bioinformatician in Mexico involved in projects of second-generation biofertilizers' design and development. During his PhD, Francisco focused on the study of microbial communities associated to the common bean roots along its lifecycle, as well as the study of the root-associated microbiome and its relationship with the plant domestication process. He has joined as Postdoctoral Research Associate with the aim of studying postmortem interval estimation using different bioinformatics tools. Francisco is excited to collaborate with Dr. Zapico at the NJIT and grateful to have this opportunity.

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Josefina Castagnola

Fulbright Graduate Student

Josefina Castagnola is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated from the University of Buenos Aires with a BA/MA in Biochemistry and Pharmacy. The previous year, Josefina was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her Ph.D. in Forensic Epigenetics, under the guidance of Dr. Sara Zapico at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

From 2018 until her move to the United States, Josefina worked as a Forensic Research Scientist at the Genetic Fingerprint Service (SHDG) at the Chair of Forensic Genetics in the School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry in Buenos Aires. In addition to her forensic role, she also contributed her expertise as an Emergency Oncology Pharmacist at the Marie Curie Municipal Oncology Hospital in Buenos Aires.

Today, she is enthusiastic about contributing to Dr. Zapico's lab and fulfilling her dream of dedicating her full time to genetic research. Aside from her scholarly pursuits, Josefina finds joy and balance in playing fencing and appreciates the moments she spends with her family and friends.

She is honored to be a part of Dr. Zapico's team, where professionalism and a strong sense of community are valued. Josefina is committed to collaborating with her labmates on one of the most fundamental human rights: identity.

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Emily Kryvorutsky

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Emily is a freshman in the New Jersey Institute of Technology Honors College and after her undergraduate education she will be pursuing her career as a doctor in medical school.  After her first semester at NJIT she switched from a Biology major to a Forensics major to explore her interest in crime scene investigations and Forensic Biology. She joined this lab to continue that and is very excited to work with Dr.Zapico and see where this opportunity takes her


Mira Sapozhnikov

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Mira Sapozhnikov is a third year Albert Dorman Honors scholar at the New Jersey Institute of Technology studying Forensic Biology with a Minor in Chemistry. Before coming to NJIT, Mira was part of Rutgers University's Waksman Student Scholar Program to create a complete cDNA library for the Landoltia punctata genome. She also contributed research to a Montclair State University project dedicated to studying the effects of Helitron activity in the Triticum aestivum genome. In 2021, Mira worked for a lab trying to determine improved HIV detection methods in serum samples. Mira is excited to join the lab to expand on her interests in the application of molecular biology techniques to forensic science and other multidisciplinary approaches. After graduating, she is interested in pursuing forensic medicine with a focus on molecular pathology. She is grateful to Dr. Zapico for constant encouragement and the opportunity to broaden her horizons with novel research experience. 



Lab Pet

ELOVL2 has recently joined the lab and he is excited to work on his favorite topic: Epigenetics!!! As good King Penguin, ELOVL2 loves the cold, and hanging out with his labmates. 


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Undergraduate/Graduate Students!

If you are interested in any of our research lines, please, contact Dr. Zapico directly. Thank you for considering to join our team!

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