A year and 2 months have passed since the regents of the University of California (UC) system reached an unprecedented settlement with the district attorney of Los Angeles County in the criminal case against the university arising from the death of 23-year-old lab assistant Sheri Sangji from burns suffered in a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) chemistry laboratory. Safety experts predicted at the time that when the vast and prestigious 10-campus system agreed to "acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions" surrounding the fire that mortally injured Sangji, the precedent would inspire (or terrify) other institutions into tightening the lax safety standards that have long prevailed in many college and university labs.
Fourteen months on, it's hard to measure how much conditions have changed on the nation's hundreds of campuses—but, happily, there are some hopeful signs. There have been real improvements in safety practices within the UC system. The criminal case against Patrick Harran, the UCLA professor who headed the lab where Sangji worked, appears headed toward legal resolution. A new report from the American Chemical Society (ACS) provides concrete and detailed guidance to academic institutions on upgrading their safety practices. And, while most efforts concentrate on culture change and training, at least one researcher is taking a material approach, using nanotechnology to reduce common lab hazards.

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