Web Date: February 3, 2012
Famed Materials Scientist Charged With Grant Fraud
Former Pennsylvania State University electrical engineering professor Craig Grimes, considered a world leader in materials science, has been charged with misusing $3 million in federal research grants.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania accused Grimes on Jan. 31 of misusing $1.2 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and of falsifying information when applying for a $1.9 million grant through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. If convicted, Grimes could face up to 35 years in prison fines of up to $750,000.
Grimes had amassed considerable accomplishments during his career; he was named 25th in a list of the world’s top 100 materials scientists by Science Watch in 2011. Grimes’ received much attention for his lab’s 2009 discovery that titanium oxide nanotubes, when hit by sunlight, can turn carbon dioxide into methane, a process that he said could be used as a source of energy (Nano Lett., DOI: 10.1021/nl803258p).
The investigation of funding misuse dates as far back as 2010. The National Institutes of Health notified Penn State on June 18, 2010, that they were investigating Grimes’ use of his NIH award, according to Annemarie Mountz, the university’s assistant director for public information
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Grimes applied for a $1.2 million grant for his solely owned company, SentechBiomed, based in State College, Penn. Grimes claimed he would use the grant to develop methods for measuring blood gases in infants that would detect a common complication of prematurity, necrotizing enterocolitis. However, the Attorney’s Office claims that Grimes never performed the research.
Penn State fired Grimes on Dec. 31, 2010, and the university reimbursed NIH for Grimes’ misused funds, Mountz tells C&EN.
That information was kept so quiet, however, that Grimes received a lucrative offer from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, during his investigation at Penn State. Grimes was hired as Texas Tech’s Donovan Maddox Distinguished Engineering Chair in Solar Energy and was scheduled to start on Jan 1, 2011. Christopher Cook, director of communications and marketing at Texas Tech, says Grimes accepted the position in the summer of 2010. But the university rescinded the offer in late August of the same year. Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office release states that Grimes is a resident of Raleigh, N.C., Grimes listed his affiliation as Nanjing University of Technology, in China, in a 2012 journal article.
C&EN has yet to confirm whether the misconduct includes actual research misconduct. The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s charges include misuse of funds, but do not describe allegations of fabricated data.
The phone number listed for SentechBiomed was not working at C&EN’s press time, and the company’s website is down.
News of Grimes’ troubles have caught some of his peers by surprise. Grimes was an invited speaker at the Materials Research Society’s spring meeting in San Francisco in April. Symposium organizer Xiaobo Chen, chemistry professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, tells C&EN he had not been made aware of the charges against Grimes. He adds that MRS is now considering withdrawing the invitation for Grimes to speak.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment further on the issue.
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