There’s rarely time to write about every cool science story that comes our way. So this year, we’re running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one story that fell through the cracks each day, from December 25 through January 5. First up: a tale of attempted murder and the geologist who hopes he can help solve the case.
A new trace analysis of the victim’s hair sheds fresh light on a famous unsolved cold case by establishing a timeline for the thallium poisoning of Chinese college student Zhu Ling in 1994. Published in October in the journal Forensic Science International, the work could one day lead to catching the culprit, and could help solve future heavy-metal poisonings.
Zhu Ling was a sophomore majoring in physical chemistry at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, when she mysteriously began losing hair, with accompanying stomach pain and muscle paralysis, sinking into a coma four months later. Doctors were initially baffled, but friends posted her symptoms to a Usenet group, drawing attention to Zhu Ling’s plight—likely the first telemedicine trial. Physicians around the world agreed the likely cause was thallium poisoning (a toxic heavy metal sometimes used in rat poison), and her doctors treated her with the commercial dye Prussian blue, the most common antidote.
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