Image: Michele Dufault
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Michele Dufault died in an apparent accident Tuesday night.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/13/2011 7:44:00 PM ET 2011-04-13T23:44:00

A Yale University student nearing graduation was killed inside a school chemistry lab when her hair was pulled into a piece of machine-shop equipment, school officials said Wednesday.

Michele Dufault, a senior majoring in physics and astronomy, died Tuesday night after her hair became caught in a fast-spinning lathe, university President Richard Levin said. Her body was found by other students who had been working in the building, he said.

"This is a true tragedy," Levin wrote in a message to Yale students and faculty.

In a Facebook profile picture, Dufault is shown with long brown hair that fell below her shoulders. She died from accidental asphyxia by neck compression, according to the Connecticut medical examiner's office.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an inspection that will look into factors surrounding the accident and whether the lab complied with safety standards, said Ted Fitzgerald, an agency spokesman in Boston.

Dufault was from Scituate, Massachusetts, and was graduating in a month, said her grandfather Robert Dufault. She studied constantly and loved sports, he said.

"She was a living saint," the grandfather said. "She was a good, smart girl."

An uncle called her brilliant.

"She's a wonderful, wonderful kid and that should be celebrated. There's nothing but good things to say about her," said Frederick Dufault, of Holliston, Massachusetts.

Dufault intended to work in oceanography after graduating and played saxophone in the Yale Band, Levin said.

On its website, Yale's chemistry department says it maintains a state-of-the-art machine shop in which students, faculty and staff can build or modify research instruments. Access is limited to those who have completed a shop course, according to the website.

Levin said he has initiated a review of the safety policies and practices of laboratories, machine shops and other facilities where undergraduates have access to power equipment. He said access will be limited to those facilities until the review is completed and monitors will be present.

"The safety of our students is a paramount concern," he said.

Yale was offering counseling to students. The lab was closed Wednesday and classes were canceled in the building that houses the lab.

Yale was offering counseling to students.

The Yale Daily News reported that Dufault's parents had been told and were traveling to the university.

According to the chemistry department's website, access to the room where people "construct or modify research instrumentation" is "strictly limited to those who have completed the shop course," the Daily News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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