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Students given 100 times too much caffeine in experiment

Commentary: A UK university is heavily fined after an experiment involving caffeine went very, very wrong. A phone was at the heart of it.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


One cup is lovely.

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Some people drink five or six cups of coffee a day.

No one, my entirely unscientific mind tells me, should drink 300.

This, however, is what essentially happened to two students who took part in an experiment two years ago to examine the effects of caffeine on exercise at the UK's Northumbria University.

As the BBC reported Wednesday, Alex Rossetto and Luke Parkin -- both sports science students -- were given 30 grams of caffeine each. They were supposed to have received 0.3 gram.

In essence, they were subjected to the equivalent 300 cups of coffee. They were rushed to the hospital and underwent dialysis. Prosecutors said their conditions were life-threatening. (Yes, there was a court case.)

Both made a physical recovery, the BBC reported, though Rossetto still experiences memory loss.

How could this have happened? A court heard that the calculations of dosage during the experiment were made on a mobile phone. The decimal point apparently underwent quite some shifting. The dosages were handed out in powder form, rather than tablets.

There had, prosecutors said, been no risk assessment for the experiment.

A court fined the university 400,000 pounds (around $505,000).

The university didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The university told the court, however, that it was "deeply, genuinely sorry."

As to how much caffeine can kill you, science isn't sure. Some say an overdose is 10 grams. Other research suggests that 5 grams can be fatal.

Perhaps the most troubling sentence uttered by the prosecutors was this: "The staff were not experienced or competent enough and they had never done it on their own before."

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