Universities’ reluctance to reveal details of such cases could undermine public trust in research, experts say
For Conrad A. P. Goodwin, June 6, 2017, was a pretty harrowing day. The organometallic chemist, then at the University of Manchester, had just finished his Ph.D. on a high. Earlier that year he had synthesized an organometallic complex called dysprosocenium that could be switched from one stable magnetic state to another. Single-molecule magnets (SMMs) like this might eventually be used in extremely-high-density memory devices, but researchers had previously been able to make SMMs that only operated at ultracold temperatures. Crucially, Goodwin’s molecule could retain its designated magnetic state at up to 60 K—the highest temperature yet for any SMM. By the end of May, Nature had accepted a paper about the work from Goodwin and his colleagues, subject to revisions.
Then, on that fateful June day—months before Goodwin’s report actually published—a paper appeared in Angewandte Chemie describing exactly the same molecule, made in exactly the same way. Goodwin and his colleagues had been scooped. To make matters worse, the team behind the Angewandte paper was led by Richard A. Layfield, a professor whose office was just down the hall from Goodwin’s supervisor, David P. Mills.
“We’d put so much work into it,” recalls Goodwin, who now works at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The synthetic methodology was brand new, so we thought we were on to something cool. Then, suddenly, the novelty was gone.”