And finally… cold case

A laboratory janitor who was irritated by a beeping alarm on a fridge is alleged to have switched it off, destroying decades of scientific research.

The mega fridge at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, stored cell cultures and other samples at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

RPI’s lawyer, Michael Ginsberg, said: “People’s behaviour and negligence caused all this. Unfortunately, they wiped out 25 years of research.” According to Ginsberg, the Institute is now faced with an estimated $1 million bill to reproduce the lost samples and experiments.

The research materials, reportedly part of a study into photosynthesis with implications for solar panel development, were stored in the high-tech refrigerator.

The lawsuit against the janitor’s employer, Daigle Cleaning Services, alleges that on September 17, 2020, the janitor switched off the fridge to silence its beeping alarm.

This action allegedly triggered a temperature surge to minus 25.6 degrees, causing severe damage to the materials within. The fridge, which had been experiencing mechanical issues, was due for maintenance four days after the janitor’s intervention.

Lab staff had reportedly placed instructions near the fridge detailing how to silence the alarm. The guide read: “No cleaning required in this area. You can press the alarm/test mute button for five to 10 seconds if you would like to mute the sound.”

The lawsuit alleges that over 25 years of research and samples were compromised or completely destroyed due to the temperature fluctuations, noting: “A majority of specimens were compromised, destroyed and rendered unsalvageable demolishing more than 20 years of research.”

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