Postdoctoral researcher killed in explosion at Tsinghua University

A chemistry postdoctoral researcher was killed in some sort of explosion or fire at Tsinghua University on Friday, according to a post by the university on the microblogging site Weibo. If other media reports are correct, the deceased postdoc is Xiangjian Meng, and he joined the university in 2014 after many years at the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences completing his Ph.D. at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore.

The university has not released any details about the incident. A couple of early news reports mentioned tert-butyllithium as a possible culprit and another referenced an “organic catalysis experiment.” Chinese media reports on Sunday pointed to hydrogen as the culprit, so perhaps it was a hydrogenation reaction?

Various stories (translations courtesy of Google):

And a thread on reddit chemistry: Wow. Fire/Explosion leads to PostDoc death at Tsinghua University

Update: I have heard from a reader that there were two people named Xiangjian Meng at Tsinghua. The deceased Meng was a postdoc who had done his Ph.D. work at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore. The other is member of the teaching staff who worked previously at Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics. I apologize for originally misidentifying them.

Links collected with assistance from Jean-François Tremblay and other C&EN staff, Caroline Ma, and Chemjobber

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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2 Comments

  1. Very sad! I am sure universities and research institutions will learn lessons again from this incident. Looks like a large scale pressure vessel rupture or solvent still (THF) peroxide still explosion or may be a flammable cylinder rupture. I am just guessing.

  2. We can only learn from incidents when reliable and actionable information becomes available.