Temple Terrace - A University of South Florida molecular biologist died Monday night in an apparent suicide by cyanide at a Temple Terrace hotel, police say.

Comment: Cyanide is one of the more unpleasant ways to commit suicide.

Chitra Chauhan, 33, of 5125 Palms Springs Blvd. in Tampa, was pronounced dead at University Community Hospital about 10:30 p.m., according to the Temple Terrace Police Department.

University officials released a statement saying they were saddened to learn of Chauhan's death. She was a post-doctoral researcher in the Global Health department in the College of Public Health.

Police say that at about 8 p.m. Monday, emergency personnel were called to the Extended StayAmerica hotel at 12242 Morris Bridge Road after someone reported that a woman was having a heart attack.

When they arrived, they found Chauhan in apparent distress. They tried to resuscitate her and took her to the hospital, police said.

Her cause of death is still under investigation, but witnesses at the hotel say that Chauhan had mentioned that she had cyanide. A suicide note was found at the scene.

On Tuesday, Chauhan's former lab leader, David W. Severson, a professor at Notre Dame University, said his department is devastated.

"Chitra was just a wonderful person," he said. "She was very bright. She was very enthusiastic. Everyone liked her very much."

Chauhan worked for a couple of years as a post-doctoral fellow in Severson's lab, studying mosquitoes and disease transmission, he said. When she joined his lab in 2005, she was already married to her husband, Bharath Balu, a student at Notre Dame, Severson said.

Hillsborough records show the couple owns a New Tampa condominium together, which they bought in 2007. They also worked together on research, publishing a microbiology paper with several other colleagues, in May 2009.

Technicians with the Department of Environmental Protection determined that the white, granular substance found in Chauhan's hotel room was potassium cyanide. Officials evacuated about 75 to 100 hotel guests for safety reasons.

Cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist in several forms, including potassium cyanide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cyanide is in cigarette smoke and is often used to make paper, textiles and plastics. As a gas, it's used to exterminate pests, according to the CDC.

Breathing or ingesting cyanide can be toxic because it prevents the body's cells from getting oxygen, the CDC states. When this happens, the cells die.

Potassium cyanide is commonly used by universities in chemistry classes and for research, but it was not used in the research projects Chauhan was working on, USF said in its statement.

Chauhan investigated treatments for tropical diseases, including malaria, viral encephalopathies and filariasis, which is caused by parasitic worms, USF said.

The university is reviewing how she obtained the cyanide.

Monday night, the hotel guests were moved to nearby hotels and invited inside a nearby Bob Evans restaurant. The hotel hired American Compliance Technologies, a Bartow bio-tech company, to do an environmental cleanup Tuesday morning.

The university plans to notify the community of public memorial services.