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Graduate student gets prison sentence for poisoning

Zijie Wang gets two 7-year terms to serve concurrently

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla
December 12, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 49


Chemical structure of N-nitrosodimethylamine.

A former chemistry PhD candidate at Queen’s University in Canada who confessed to poisoning a colleague has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Zijie Wang pleaded guilty on Oct. 25 to introducing the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) to his colleague’s food and drink.

A Kingston court on Dec. 11 sentenced Wang to seven years each for one count of administering a noxious substance and one count of aggravated assault. He will serve the sentences concurrently. Subtracting time he has already spent in custody, he has just under six years left to serve.

“Our hearts go out to the victim and his family; we recognize this highly unusual and upsetting crime continues to have a significant impact on everyone involved,” a Queen’s spokesperson tells C&EN.

Wang worked in the lab of Guojun Liu, a chemist working on polymer synthesis and applications at Queen’s. During his time at Queen’s, Wang created cotton fabrics that can separate oil from oil-water mixtures (Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. 2016, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201507451).

Many of Wang’s colleagues had “unpleasant experiences” with him, the victim told the court in October, according to the Queen’s Journal.

Prosecutors showed video of Wang using a pipette to add a yellowish substance to the victim’s food on Jan. 29, 2018. The substance was later identified as a mixture of NDMA and ethanol, the Journal reported.

Wang’s victim told the court that he experienced nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. He added that he will always wonder whether he will develop cancer as a result of Wang’s actions, the Journal reported.

The victim also told the court that the chemistry department will not renew his contract because of “inadequate funding,” the Journal reported.

A 2 g dose of NDMA will kill 50% of the people who receive it, according to a statement submitted to the court by Queen’s chemistry professor Hans-Peter Loock, the Journal reported. Analysis of two of the victim’s water samples found 4.1 g and 5.8 g of the substance.

The victim’s lawyers declined to comment, citing policy of Canada’s Ministry of the Attorney General. Wang’s lawyer, Brian Greenspan, did not respond to interview requests by C&EN’s deadline.


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