Singaporean A*Star scholarship holder charged with poisoning classmates in the US

Ouyang Xiangyu, 27, charged with poisoning classmates in the US (Photo of Ouyang Xiangyu from A*Star website/Photo of Stanford University from Business Insider)

A Singaporean Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) scholarship holder doing research at one of America’s top universities allegedly tried to poison her laboratory mates using a toxic chemical, The Straits Times reported.

Ouyang Xiangyu, 27, has been charged with four counts of poisoning the drinking water of lab mates at Stanford University.

Two female graduate student researchers in the same lab as Ouyang said they experienced burning sensations in their throats after drinking the water in their bottles.

They also found that the water smelt of paraformaldehyde (PFA).

Paraformaldehyde is a strong-smelling chemical classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was available in the lab where they worked. It is also used as a preservative in mortuaries as it preserves tissue samples.

Ouyang is currently out on US$50,000 (S$68,000) bail but is not allowed to leave the country. She is also expected to plead not guilty due to insanity.

The former Temasek Junior College student is originally from China. She was expected to complete her A*Star National Science Scholarship PhD studies by 2018 and return to Singapore to complete her bond.

According to court documents, Ouyang, who was described as “quiet and shy” by her colleagues, started showing problematic signs in August last year when she allegedly started sabotaging a lab mate’s experiment.

When the police questioned her in November, Ouyang admitted that she added PFA to at least two bottles that did not belong to her.

Ouyang also claimed she suffered from severe insomnia and dizzy spells and had consulted a psychiatrist for help. She insisted that she never wanted to harm anyone.

Her actions were “a cry for help”, she said, and claimed she had little control over them.

Stanford University has also ordered her to stay away from the campus.

According to California law, she could face between two and five years in jail if found guilty. Another three years could be added if the poison involved can cause "great bodily harm or death".