Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Murder most academic

Being a graduate student is the most grueling and intense part of becoming a scientist, but it rarely leads to murder. Here are some rare instances.

Thus begins this rather morbid account of murders by graduate students of their professors and/or advisers. The bloodiest of them -- with the largest number of victims -- took place on Friday, Nov. 1, 1991, at the University of Iowa:

: "... with a .38 caliber revolver and a .22-caliber handgun , [Gang Lu, a physics graduate student] shot five people to death and seriously wounded another before committing suicide."

The people he killed were Christoph K. Goertz (his advisor), Linhua Shan (a fellow Ph.D student from China), Dwight R. Nicholson (department chair), Robert Alan Smith (associate professor, Lu's co-advisor), and T. Anne Cleary (vice President for Academic Affairs at UI). A student employee, Miya Sioson was shot in her spine, permanently paralyzing her arms and legs. [source: Wikipedia entry on Gang Lu].

NYTimes carries another story today about the movie Dark Matter, "a fictionalized account inspired by the [University of Iowa] shootings". The movie, by Chen Shi-Zheng, has already won a film festival award; it's not clear when it will open in theatres. Here's an extract:

As Mr. Chen, the director, said, “[The movie is] about power, in a way.” That would be the nearly feudalistic power that a graduate adviser has over his student, who after 16 or more years sitting in a classroom listening and regurgitating information must now change gears and learn how to produce original research. That grueling process has been the crucible in which new scientists are made ever since Plato mentored Aristotle, and although it rarely leads to murder [adjoining article], it can often lead to disaffection, strife and lifelong feuds.

If you are really upto it, you could read The Fourth State of Matter a deeply harrowing (and fictionalized) narrative by Jo Ann Beard (whose boss was Chris Goetz, Gang Lu's adviser and one of his victims), in which the Iowa shootings play a central role.


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    The story of Valery Fabrikant at Concordia (mentioned in the NYT article) is equally fascinating. They link to Fabrikant's highly paranoid account. Here is an impartial version, which, while confirming that he was a dangerous crackpot, also paints the university in a very poor light (many of Fabrikant's allegations against his colleagues were true).