Someone thawed out and destroyed sensitive protein molecules used for a wide variety of research. Scientists are perplexed about the motive.
Inside a building at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory someone acted out in the most bizarre way. Over the weekend, someone removed 3,500 sensitive protein samples from their Dewar containers and liquid nitrogen.
"So when they're removed from that, they thaw out naturally and they become ruined rather quickly once they reach room temperature," SLAC spokesperson Rob Brown said.
The FBI is the lead agency investigating the case, which appears to be the result of an inside job.
In order to get to the building where the vandalism occurred, a person has to go through two security checkpoints and the building itself is locked and there were no signs of forced entry.
"We're not talking about someone going in and spray painting the walls, we're talking about someone who came in with some knowledge and did something, thoughtfully set it aside for malicious intent," Brown said.
SLAC has 1,200 employees and scientists from all over the world come to the lab to do research. Everyone has been told to keep a watchful eye for anything unusual.
"To remake the samples that had not yet been screened or imaged is several weeks of work and represents several hundred thousand dollars of cost, so it is a setback," lab director Persis Drell said.
Nothing like this has ever happened before at SLAC. Lab administrators are perplexed as to why anyone would target those particular protein samples. As far they know, the samples are not part of any research that is controversial.
The samples were part of SLAC's continuing work with biologically interesting proteins -- a project funded by the National Institutes of Health.
"We now process these proteins, learn about how they work, how they function, whether it's a virus, so then you can design an anti-viral drug," Drell said.
As part of its investigation, detectives are going through logs to see who came in and out during the period of time the incident occurred.