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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 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 49

 

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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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Comments
john tamine (December 12, 2018 6:27 PM)
NDMA was just in the news a few weeks ago. seems the pharmaceutical Valsartan (made in china) was contaminated with NDMA. supposedly an accidental consequence of unapproved synthetic methedology. hmmmm... dontcha hafta wonder? my first question would be, who profited by the recall? second, is there some toxicological reason for NDMA to be a lethal agent of choice for would-be poisoners?

Hans-Peter Loock (Queen's Chemsitry, Department HEad) (December 13, 2018 12:35 AM)
From the article one might infer that the victim had been laid off by the department or by his supervisor. This is not true, of course. He is currently (Dec 2018) under contract and has been working as a postoctoral fellow under term contracts continuously since 2014, The department together with his supervisor renewed his contract as recently as March 2018 , i.e. two months after the incident occurred. It is possible that the statement made in court had been distorted in translation, but this is my speculation.
Jyllian Kemsley (December 30, 2018 4:52 PM)
@Prof. Loock--Thank you for clarifying. I was the editor on this story. When Dalmeet tried to speak with Queen's press representatives, they would only issue the quoted statement and declined to answer further questions.
Eddy Viggers (December 14, 2018 10:52 PM)
This is exactly what I try to disuade chemistry students not to do. To use knowledge for hurting and destroy. I feel sorry about this case.
George Lunn (December 28, 2018 7:58 AM)
NDMA was used as a murder weapon in 1973 in Lincoln, Nebraska (https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1979/10/07/rocket-fuel-poisoning/df1cdbb0-0d49-4890-a2aa-2d75a7f409f4/?utm_term=.bba40391eba9). There have been subsequent poisoning cases in Germany and China (see Wikipedia article on N-nitrosodimethylamine). NDMA is, unfortunately, not hard to make but I can't think of any legitimate use for such a powerful carcinogen other than animal cancer research. NDMA has been shown to cause cancer in mice at the ppb level in drinking water which makes the Valsartan report all the more troubling.
Michael Block (January 9, 2019 2:25 PM)
Regarding "legitimate uses" of NDMA, it has been used as a starting material in the synthesis of the rocket fuel 1,1-dimethylhydrazine.

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