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An Arresting Piece of Research

A Wisconsin postdoc has devised a creative way to land an assistant professorship. As Chemjobber summarizes the tale: "Dumb postdoc reaches for assistant prof job, tenure in home country with lead compound." The home country is China, the job is at Zhejiang University, and the lead compound is known as C-25. The FBI charges that the substance was stolen, along with research data on its potential cancer-fighting properties, from the lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee where the alleged perpetrator worked. Pharmacologist Huajun Zhao, 42, is in custody on "a single count of economic espionage," reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Reading the newspaper's account of the case, one hopes that Zhao was better at research than at international crime. He allegedly stole bottles of C-25 from his supervisor's desk under the watchful eye of a security camera; kept the receipt he got from mailing the substance to his wife in China; claimed, in documents found on his computer, discovery of the substance and authorship of research done by others; and, in a particularly imaginative touch, "remotely accessed the Medical College servers and deleted [his supervisor's] raw data from the C-25 research, information the college was later able to restore," according to the Journal-Sentinel

According to documents on that same computer, he had indeed landed that assistant professorship and was industriously applying for Chinese grants to continue work on C-25. But instead of coming up for tenure in 7 years or so, Zhao could be coming up for parole. If convicted, he faces a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of $500,000—more than 10 years of postdoc pay.

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