Published: May 24, 2023

Bruce Vaughn presents Sylvia Michel with the Outstanding PRA Award.

Bruce Vaughn presents Sylvia Michel with the Outstanding PRA Award.

INSTAAR is pleased to announce that Sylvia Michel is the first recipient of its Outstanding PRA Award. This new award recognizes a professional research assistant (PRA) who has demonstrated excellence in their role and within the larger communities of INSTAAR and the University.

“It is really an honor to receive this award—because the PRA community is such a stellar group!” said Michel. “These are the folks that power INSTAAR as a research engine. They have amazing technical skills, and so much experience, and as a community we really help each other. I’d really like to see all PRAs get proper recognition for their commitment to our scientific mission.”

Michel leads the team within the Stable Isotope Lab that measures stable isotopes of carbon dioxide and methane in air samples from the NOAA Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. She ensures the quality of the measurements as well as running and maintaining the instruments needed to take the samples. These measurements are vital for our understanding of sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, which is needed to understand our changing climate.

John Ortega, also a PRA in the Stable Isotope Lab, says of Michel, “She is a critical link between us and our NOAA partners and the “go to” person for all our outreach activities. The equipment that we use requires technical knowledge and expertise of high vacuum operations, mass spectrometer maintenance, thermal cycling and computerized instrument control. She is truly the master of the lab and the critical consistent 30+ year global record of CO2 and CH4 isotopes has remained successful in large part due to her efforts. In addition to her work ethic and scientific skills, she’s a pleasant person to work with—always looking to maintain professionalism of the lab while being sensitive and accommodating to peoples’ individual styles.”

Michel is also a community builder. She organized the professional research assistants at INSTAAR into a group that relies on each other for information sharing, professional support, and advocacy. With leadership from Michel and others, the group has also organized annual blood drives, food drives, and collections of warm clothing and other necessities for people in need in Boulder.

PRA Leanne Lestak said, “Sylvia is plugged into the inner workings of PRAs here at INSTAAR. She is approachable, shares her knowledge readily, and asks deep questions, all in the context of supporting the greater good for all PRAs here at INSTAAR and even university-wide.”