Review requested for honour for controversial UCLA chemist charged over lab assistant’s death

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) might reverse its election to fellow of a controversial University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) chemistry professor. Patrick Harran was nearly charged with felony manslaughter following the death of his research assistant Sheri Sangji in a lab accident in early 2009.

Harran is to be among 347 AAAS fellows for 2015 that were announced in November. They are to be honoured at a forum during the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC on 13 February 2016. Election to fellow is an honour bestowed by the AAAS to distinguished members of the society for their service to the sciences.

Harran ‘builds new chemical compounds in creative ways and uses those molecules to drive research in biology and medicine’, UCLA said in announcing his selection. UCLA spent $4.5 million (£3 million) defending Harran.

The American Chemical Society was recently pressed to speak out against poor safety conditions in US academic labs by Sangji’s sister, who accuses Harran of encouraging unsafe lab practices. Harran had faced a significant prison sentence, but he settled out of court in June 2014.

The AAAS chemistry section’s steering group has now asked the AAAS governing council for permission to reconsider Harran’s election to fellow. This request follows revelations that an initial review of Harran’s nomination materials had not included all relevant information, the AAAS said. Last week, members of the nomination reviewing committee became aware of Sangji’s death in Harran’s lab, the organisation stated. A final decision on Harran’s election as a fellow will be made by the ‘relevant AAAS governance bodies’, the AAAS said.