Michele Dufault, a senior majoring in astronomy, died yesterday night "in what appears to have been a terrible accident involving a piece of equipment," school officials said Wednesday. The school said the accident took place inside a chemistry lab machine shop but didn't say what the equipment was.
"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," Yale Vice President Linda Lorimer wrote in a message to Yale students and faculty. "We will find ways in the next day to gather to celebrate her life and grieve her loss."
The university told the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration that Dufault was operating the machinery for a senior project when she was killed, according to Kang Yi, an assistant area director for OSHA.
OSHA was reviewing jurisdiction in the case and evaluating whether it would conduct an inspection, said Ted Fitzgerald, an agency spokesman.
Dufault was graduating in a month, said her grandfather Robert Dufault. She studied constantly and loved sports, he said.
"She was a living saint," the grandfather said. "She was a good, smart girl."
An uncle called her brilliant. "She's a wonderful, wonderful kid and that should be celebrated. There's nothing but good things to say about her," said Frederick Dufault.
On its website, Yale's chemistry department says it maintains a state-of-the-art machine shop to allow students, faculty and staff to construct or modify research instruments. Access is limited to those who have completed a shop course, according to the website.
Yale was offering counseling to students. The lab was closed today and classes were cancelled in the building that houses the lab. Yale police are leading the investigation, New Haven police spokesman Joe Avery said.