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A custodian working at a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute lab destroyed over two decades’ worth of research when he switched off a super-cold freezer while trying to silence an “annoying” alarm, according to a lawsuit filed by RPI against the third-party firm that employed the cleaner. 

The public university in Troy, N.Y., contends that the damaged research materials, which included cell cultures and samples along with other items, would cost more than $1 million to recreate. That includes materials for a project led by K. V. Lakshmi, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology, who along with her students had been working on a project concerning renewable energy and photosynthesis for 25 years before the materials were largely destroyed, according to The Albany Times Union.

In the lawsuit, RPI says the freezer shut down when the custodian turned off a circuit breaker to stop a persistent alarm from blaring, even though there was a sign on the door to the freezer explaining the source of the alarm and how to mute it.

Michael Ginsberg, RPI’s attorney in the case, said the loss was caused by “negligence.”

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