April 13, 2011 — -- A star Yale University science student was killed early today in an industrial accident at a campus machine shop where equipment for experiments was constructed.
Yale Vice President Linda Koch said the student, Michele Dufault of Scituate, Mass., died after a "terrible accident involving a piece of equipment in the student machine shop."
Sources told the New Haven Register that the student's hair got caught in a spinning lathe and it pulled her in.
The university said in a statement that the accident occurred at the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, but provided no details of what happened. Dufault was an astronomy and physics major who was expected to graduate with a bachelor's of science degree this spring.
David Johnson, the machine shop instructor, could not be reached for comment. Yale's chemistry department online says it has a state-of-the-art machine shop to allow students to construct or modify research instrumentation. Access is strictly limited to those who have completed the shop course. The laboratory was closed today, with all classes and labs in the building cancelled.
"By all reports, Michele was an exceptional young woman, an outstanding student and young scientist, a dear friend and a vibrant member of this community. We will find ways in the next day to gather to celebrate her life and grieve this loss," Koch said.
The chemistry department is holding a meeting today at 3:00 p.m. "for those who wish to convene and comfort one another at this tragic time."
Dufault's uncle, Frederick Dufault, said he spoke with her parents this morning and they were heading to the university. He did not have any information on her funeral arrangements.
"She was an exceptional student and a wonderful person, just the best kid in the world. The world is going to be sadder place without her. I'm just still in shock," Frederick Dufault said. "She was gifted in many areas not just science, she was a gifted musician, she was a gifted athlete and did crew, she was just a super talented kid just beyond belief, it's a loss not only for her family but for the world."
Dufault was a member of the "Yale Drop Team," an organization that allows students to perform reduced-gravity experiments with NASA programs.
Dufault was a summer 2010 student fellow for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. Dean of academic programs, Jim Yoder said she participated in a highly selective program for young scientists.
"She worked closely with WHOI scientists who design and operate robotic vehicles to make remote chemical and other measurements in the ocean. The WHOI community is deeply saddened by the loss of such an intelligent young woman with such high potential," Yoder said.
In February 2009, Dufault participated in a workshop to engage young girls to become interested in science. Dufault told the Yale Daily News: "It's nice for the girls to be able to ask questions and say what they want without being judged by guys," Dufault said. "Almost all of the volunteers and scientists involved with this program are women—showing the girls that women can succeed in the sciences. I wish I had that opportunity at their age."
Dufault attended high school at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass. The head of school, Robert Henderson Jr. said her successes touched almost every aspect of the school's program.
"Dufault was an extraordinary young woman, one of the most precocious students who her teachers ever encountered," said Henderson. "She was simply brilliant. Her mind, her sense of curiosity, her perceptiveness, her sensitivity, and her enjoyment of what she did were extraordinary. She was a true intellectual."
Just last month, Raymond Clark III pled guilty to the murder and sexual assault of Yale University graduate student Annie Le in a research building on the New Haven campus. Clark, 26, strangled the 24-year-old Le just days before her wedding in September of 2009.