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Research Integrity

University Of Utah Concludes Investigation Of Controversial 'Nanochopsticks'

Misconduct: Former student solely responsible for manipulated images, committee finds

by Bethany Halford
November 13, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 46

Credit: Nano Lett.
Manipulation of the nanochopsticks in this TEM from the supporting information for a Nano Letters paper initiated a University of Utah investigation.
A transmission electron micrograph in which the “nanochopsticks” have been manipulated.
Credit: Nano Lett.
Manipulation of the nanochopsticks in this TEM from the supporting information for a Nano Letters paper initiated a University of Utah investigation.

Officials at the University of Utah have concluded that a former graduate student, Rajasekhar Anumolu, is solely responsible for manipulated images that appeared in two American Chemical Society publications. ACS also publishes C&EN. The principal investigator in the case, Leonard F. Pease III, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the school, was cleared of any misconduct.

Jeffrey R. Botkin, the University of Utah’s associate vice president for research integrity, tells C&EN that the investigation began in June 2013, when the university was contacted by editors of the journal Nano Letters regarding images in the paper “Chopstick Nanorods: Tuning the Angle between Pairs with High Yield” (2013, DOI: 10.1021/nl400959z).

The paper, authored by Anumolu, Pease, and a Utah coworker, reported the fabrication of gold nanorods that had the appearance of chopsticks. Shortly after publication, readers contacted the journal to point out that transmission electron micrographs (TEMs) in the report appeared to have been manipulated.

The manipulated images came to the attention of the larger chemistry community when they were reported by Mitch André Garcia on Chemistry Blog on Aug. 13, 2013. Garcia, who now works at C&EN, says that he was alerted to the manipulated images by an anonymous tip. Nano Letters retracted the paper on Aug. 15, 2013.

Garcia also combed through other papers authored by Anumolu and Pease. In the supporting information of a 2011 ACS Nano paper (DOI: 10.1021/nn103585f), Garcia found one TEM where an oval and a rectangle appeared to obscure small parts of the image. He informed Botkin of the manipulation and wrote about it on his blog. The paper was retracted from ACS Nano on Nov. 3. Botkin says a committee made up of three University of Utah professors found that Anumolu was solely responsible for the manipulated images. As a result of the misconduct, Anumolu was not awarded his doctoral degree. He did not respond to C&EN’s request for an interview.

The committee also looked at Pease’s involvement, Botkin adds, “but they did not feel there was a rationale for making a determination of misconduct for Dr. Pease.” Pease declined a request to speak with C&EN. When asked in an e-mail why he chose to retract the ACS Nano paper rather than publish a correction, Pease replied, “Because I have no tolerance for any cheating of any kind.” In a subsequent e-mail, Pease added, “We requested a retraction [of the Nano Letters paper] on June 22, 2013.”

Although the Nano Letters paper acknowledged funding from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, and the ACS Nano paper also acknowledged NIH support, Pease subsequently indicated that no federal funds were used. The university’s investigation “confirmed that federal funds weren’t used for the work in question,” Botkin says, although the federal agencies have not yet confirmed that they agree with the university’s determination.



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