Northumbria Uni fined £400K after boffin's bad math gives students a near-killer caffeine high

Pair needed dialysis after downing equivalent of 300 cups of coffee


Northumbria University in England has been fined £400,000 ($503,000) after a botched experiment resulted in two students almost dying from caffeine overdose.

Newcastle Crown Court issued the fine on Wednesday after hearing the case of two 20-year-old students who, as part of a study on the effects of the stimulant, were mistakenly given as much caffeine as what's in 300 standard cups of coffee.

According to reports from court, Luke Parkin and Alex Rosetta had enrolled in a March 2015 sports science experiment on the effects of caffeine on exercise.

While administering the powdered caffeine for the study, a staff researcher had calculated the dosages on a mobile phone and missed a decimal point in the calculations. As a result, they both ended up getting 30g of the stimulant mixed into orange juice and water rather than the intended 0.3g. One cup of coffee typically has 0.1g of caffeine.

“They suffered violent side effects within minutes of drinking it," said Adam Farrer, prosecuting. “There was dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, shaking and rapid heart beat. Both required hospital treatment. It was a life-threatening reaction.”

While both students lived through their ordeal, they were hospitalized in intensive care and had to undergo dialysis. They each lost about 10kg in weight and struggled with sporting activities. They both eventually made a recovery, though Rosetta is reportedly suffering from short-term memory loss as a result.

"The university and all those involved are deeply and genuinely sorry for the breach in this case," said Peter Smith, defending. “Both students have made good recoveries and both excelled in completing their degrees. There was a system in place but it was inadequate."

The uni admitted it broke health and safety laws, and was ordered to cough up £400,000 plus £26,000 in legal bills. In sentencing, Judge Edward Bindloss noted: "Both were sportsmen and fit young men. Luckily for them and for everyone they were in the sort of physical shape that was able to deal safely with this large amount of caffeine.”

It could have been much worse for the two second-year undergrads.

The believed lethal dose of caffeine is said to be around 18 grams. America's drug watchdog estimates that 170mg per kg of weight would be enough caffeine to prove fatal.

While drinking 300 cups of coffee is never a good idea, regular consumption of the stuff has been linked to increased longevity, as well as improved memory. ®


Other stories you might like

  • ESA's 2030+ roadmap envisions Europeans on the Moon and Mars
    But the agency is distinctly aware that it needs more autonomy

    The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a strategy roadmap to take it into the 2030s and beyond.

    The publication comes on the eve of much-anticipated images from the James Webb Space Telescope, on which ESA partnered with NASA and others, but that makes one of the themes of the roadmap all the more stark – ESA needs more autonomy.

    "As recent events have shown," the document begins, "the geopolitical context can unexpectedly become unstable."

    Continue reading
  • Biden considers removal of Trump-era China tariffs to ease inflation
    But US administration split on loss of leverage, according to reports

    US president Joe Biden is debating whether to end or cut Trump-era tariffs imposed on Chinese imports into the United States, according to reports.

    Introduced in 2018 during the Trump administration, tariffs on more than $300 billion in imports from China — including products and components vital in consumer and business technologies — were inherited by the Biden administration.

    According to Bloomberg, president Biden and his cabinet have discussed the inflationary impact of these levies with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The cabinet was looking at all of the possible ways to curb inflation and to provide some relief on cost of living for Americans, the report said.

    Continue reading
  • Semiconductor market to be hit by fresh wave of rising component costs
    Chemicals supplier warns it expects to raise prices, may cut some product lines

    More red flags about the semiconductor market are being raised with the news that a key supplier to chipmakers such as TSMC is planning to hike prices, which will likely have a knock-on effect on chip prices.

    Japan-based chemicals company Showa Denko has warned it expects to raise prices and may have to cut back some of its unprofitable product lines. The company is a major supplier of chemicals and gases that are used in the semiconductor manufacturing industry for the creation of silicon wafers and in the etching process to create chips.

    In an interview with Bloomberg, Showa Denko chief financial officer Hideki Somemiya said the company had already raised prices at least a dozen times this year, citing issues such as COVID-19 lockdowns, increasing energy costs and other factors. However, he confirmed "the current market moves require us to ask twice the amount we had previously calculated."

    Continue reading
  • Germany unveils plan to tackle cyberattacks on satellites
    Vendors get checklist on what to do when crooks inevitably turn up in space

    The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has put out an IT baseline protection profile for space infrastructure amid concerns that attackers could turn their gaze skywards.

    The document, published last week, is the result of a year of work by Airbus Defence and Space, the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and BSI, among others. It is focused on defining minimum requirements for cyber security for satellites and, a cynic might say, is a little late to the party considering how rapidly companies such as SpaceX are slinging spacecraft into orbit.

    The guide categorizes the protection requirements of various satellite missions from "Normal" to "Very High" with the goal of covering as many missions as possible. It is also intended to cover information security from manufacture through to operation of satellites.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022