Postdoc Allegedly Attempts to Poison Lab Colleague

November 12, 2008

A typical research laboratory has the chemical ingredients for a number of hazards — explosions, thermal burns, and chemical contamination, to name a few. At the University of California at San Francisco, attempted murder is now on the list of potential dangers.

That’s where the police say a postdoctoral researcher in the urology department attempted to poison a colleague on two separate occasions by tainting her drinking water with a chemical buffer agent, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The suspect, Benchun Liu, reportedly admitted to the bizarre murder scheme by telling his colleague, the research assistant Mei Cao, that he had tried to kill her. Mr. Liu, 38, told the police he had been “stressed out at work” but otherwise provided no motive. The police said Ms. Cao and Mr. Liu were not involved in a romantic relationship.

Ms. Cao drank some of her water, even though it had been discolored by the agent. She was examined at the university’s medical center and released, but the police said the chemical’s long-term effect on her body remained unknown.

This is not the first poisoning attempt among university colleagues. In 1987 a former head of the anthropology department at New York University was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sending boxes of poisoned chocolates to a professor and to a federal judge. —Caitlin Moran