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Sezen Found Guilty Of Fraud

Scientific Misconduct: Columbia University case is one of the worst for chemistry

by William G. Schulz
December 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 49

Credit: ACS/C&EN
Credit: ACS/C&EN

The federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has leveled 21 findings of research misconduct against former Columbia University chemistry graduate student Bengü Sezen. Her case is one of the worst incidents of scientific misconduct to have hit the chemistry community.

The ORI findings validate Columbia’s own investigation. A notice in the Nov. 29 Federal Register states that Sezen falsified, fabricated, and plagiarized research data in three papers and her doctoral thesis. Some six papers that Sezen had coauthored with Columbia associate professor of chemistry Dalibor Sames have been withdrawn by Sames because Sezen’s results could not be replicated.

“Both ORI and Columbia concluded that Dr. Sezen fabricated most of her research while at Columbia,” says ORI’s director of investigative oversight, John E. Dahlberg. “For example, most of the spectra she produced to demonstrate the presence of chemical intermediates or final compounds were fabricated by pasting together fragments of irrelevant NMR spectra.”

“The University is in the process of requesting the trustees to formally revoke Ms. Sezen’s Ph.D.,” a Columbia spokesman said in a statement. Sames declined to speak to C&EN.

The case stretches back to 2005, when Columbia awarded Sezen her Ph.D. in chemistry. Working in the Sames laboratory, she claimed to have developed a method for selectively activating C–H bonds, a technique commonly used to functionalize hydrocarbons. Soon after the work was published, however, other researchers in Sames’s lab and elsewhere reported problems reproducing it. Ultimately, Columbia launched an investigation of Sezen.

Through it all, Sezen has maintained that her work is valid and that other researchers have been able to reproduce her experimental results. She objected loudly when Sames retracted the papers they had coauthored, and she has insisted that none of her results were faked. She went on to earn another Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany.

Sezen is no longer listed as a researcher at Heidelberg, and her current whereabouts are unknown.



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