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Blog

Tragic death of US physics student

By James Dacey

I was shocked to hear today about the tragic death of a physics student who was killed earlier this week in a machine shop at Yale University in the US.

Michele Dufault, just 22-years-old, died on Tuesday night after her hair got caught in a lathe as she worked late on a project in one of the university’s chemistry laboratories. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Yale’s vice president, Richard Levin, said that the girl’s body was found by other students who had been working in the building.

On Wednesday evening, the university held a memorial for Dufault in which friends and classmates were invited to light candles and offer words to comfort to each other.

The university said that Dufault was pursuing a B.S. in astronomy and physics, and that she intended to undertake work in oceanography after graduation. “By all reports, Michele was an exceptional young woman, an outstanding student and young scientist, a dear friend and a vibrant member of this community,” said Levin.

According to a report in the New York Times, Dufault died while carrying out experimental work for her thesis: investigating the possible use of liquid helium for detecting dark matter particles. A lathe is a machine tool for shaping metals and other hard materials, and it possesses a heavy spinning wheel for grinding.

Levin said that the safety of students is a paramount concern and the university has programs to train students before they use power equipment. He confirmed, however, that he has ordered a thorough review of all the university’s facilities that contain power equipment operated by undergraduates.

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