A chemical engineering student at the University of Utah will not be receiving his doctorate after investigators determined that he fabricated data in an academic publication. But his senior co-author has been cleared of wrongdoing.
University of Utah investigators found that graduate student Rajasekhar Anumolu manipulated images of microscopic structures called nanorods. The images were published in the journal Nano Letters, but the paper has since been retracted. Jeffrey Botkin is the Associate Vice President for Research Integrity at the university.
“The investigation determined that in fact there were extensive cut and paste manipulations in all of the figures in that particular publication,” Botkin says. “So basically all of the data was fabricated for that publication.”
The committee found Anumolu guilty of research misconduct and refused to grant his doctorate. But they cleared Leonard Pease, the head of the chemical engineering lab and senior researcher on the paper. Pease reviewed the work before it was submitted for publication, but Botkin says there’s no evidence he was aware of or participated in the cheating. He says Pease and peer reviewers all missed the image manipulation. It was a chemistry blog that first spotted the suspicious signs of cutting and pasting in the paper.
“I think it becomes an interesting challenge to try to decide what the obligations are for co-authors and reviewers to do that level of analysis of images,” he says.
According to Botkin, the University of Utah has had three significant cases of this type of fraud over the last 4 years, which he says is pretty consistent with the experience of other universities across the country.