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Janitor’s Mistake Destroys Decades of Research

Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai Email Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai
August 2023
Janitor’s Mistake Destroys Decades of Research

The door of the super-cold freezer inside Professor K.V. Lakshmi’s lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, displayed a sign in bold print and capital letters: “THIS FREEZER IS BEEPING AS IT IS UNDER REPAIR. PLEASE DO NOT MOVE OR UNPLUG IT. NO CLEANING REQUIRED IN THIS AREA.”

Lakshmi, director of the Baruch ’60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research at Rensselaer, had also installed a safety lock box on the freezer’s outlet and socket.

The contents of the freezer—cell cultures and samples collected over two decades—needed to be stored at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit. A fluctuation of more than a few degrees would ruin the research. In September 2020, the alarm went off to indicate that the temperature had risen to 108.4 degrees F. While awaiting emergency repairs, Lakshmi placed the sign and installed the safety lock box.

Unfortunately, a special-needs janitor thought that a power failure had set off the alarm. Trying to be helpful, he went to the open electrical box and turned off the circuit breakers, believing he was turning them on. The freezer shut off and the valuable research was destroyed.

The university is suing the janitor’s employer, Daigle Cleaning Systems in Albany, New York, for $1 million in damages.

“We don’t believe there was any nefarious conduct (on the) part of the cleaning company,” Michael Ginsberg, the attorney for Rensselaer, told CNN. “A cleaner should be trained to not attempt to remedy an electrical issue.”

More of ChaiTime here:


Compiled and partly written by Indian humorist MELVIN DURAI, author of the novel Bala Takes the Plunge.

[Comments? Contributions? We would love to hear from you about Chai Time. If you have contributions, please email us at melvin@melvindurai.com. We welcome jokes, quotes, online clips, and more.]

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