Yale Student Dies in Lab Accident

Only weeks away from graduation, Yale senior Michele Dufault died Tuesday night while working in a campus laboratory. Operating a piece of machinery known as a metal lathe, Ms. Dufault was killed when her hair became caught in the equipment. 

A physics and astronomy double major, Ms. Dufault was no stranger to heavy machinery or extreme conditions. This past summer, she was part of a select team of undergraduates chosen by NASA to perform experiments in plasma physics at reduced gravity. By the time of the accident, moreover, Ms. Dufault had logged weeks in the same lab using the same equipment, toiling to complete her senior thesis.

No one would have predicted that she would be the one to fall victim. But there are times, unfortunately, when life goes tragically awry. And in this case, a very bright and hopeful future was extinguished.

“She was incredibly passionate about every sort of science…the hardest working person I know,” said Joe O’Rourke, a close friend and fellow physics major.

OSHA, the federal agency that regulates workplace safety, claims to have jurisdiction over the labs at Yale and says it will investigate the accident. Yale officials announced that they, too, would review their safety policies. Under the current rules, the machine shop in which Ms. Dufault was killed is only accessible to students who have completed an introductory shop course. Furthermore, a staff member must be present at all times during the day.

But considering the modern college routine, that doesn’t do much for student safety. Many, if not most, undergraduates use the lab at night, and Ms. Dufault was no exception. In fact, she was working alone at the time, and her body was found long after she had asphyxiated.

Yes, accidents do occur, and it is foolish for us to pin blame for all the tragedies of life. But I sincerely hope that Yale, Dartmouth, and other institutions heed this example and take the necessary precautions to avoid one more. Until then, we at The Review would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of Ms. Dufault. She will be missed by many.

 — Thomas L. Hauch