CHINA / National

Chip scandal hurts high-tech push
Updated: 2006-05-15 09:27

Chen Jin became a national high-tech hero almost overnight, but his easily-won fame fades quickly as his "breakthrough invention" -- computer chips -- was proven to be a fraud.

Chen Jin, a leading scientist in the research of Hanxin computer chip series for digital signal processing, was removed from his post as the dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University.
Chen Jin, a leading scientist in the research of Hanxin computer chip series for digital signal processing, was removed from his post as the dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University.

In 2003, just three years after he returned to Shanghai from the United States with a PhD in computer engineering, the then 35-year-old professor made a scientific breakthrough: his team created one of China's first homegrown digital signal computer chips.

The achievement was then hailed as a milestone for China's rising technology industry. Chen was named one of the country's brightest young scientists. He received a huge research grant from Beijing, headed his own research institute and was named a dean at one of China's most prestigious universities.

But on Friday, Jiaotong University, where Chen and his team were based, announced that Chen faked his research. He was fired from Jiaotong and stripped of his state honors and privileges. University officials called his actions "despicable" and Beijing said he would never again be allowed to do government research.

The disclosure has turned into an embarrassment for Chen, Jiaotong University and the country, which has been trying to lure talented scientists back from overseas in the hopes of creating its own prestigious research and technology centers, according to a New York Times report.

No longer content with being the world's low-cost factory floor, China desperately wants to move up the economic ladder and to show it can compete as a scientific and technological power.

The country sent its first men into space three years ago; it is building its own high-tech parks and 3G mobile technology. Internet companies are taking off here.

In addition, Shanghai has been moving aggressively to develop into a major center for microelectronic chips.

Few people symbolized the rise of China's scientific elite like Chen, a charismatic young scientist who worked for a multinational corporation and then returned home.

When he announced the results of his research at a series of press conferences in 2003 and 2004, he smiled for the cameras and held up a glass-like plate bearing a new family of Chinese born computer chips, dubbed "the Hanxin," or China chip. Newspapers here called it a "breakthrough" that could help end foreign dominance of the chip industry.

Then, last December, a former colleague - and, by some accounts, a group of lab assistants - sent a letter or a series of letters to the government. They said Chen's chips were fake. One of the so-called whistleblowers even posted the allegations on the Internet. A few weeks later, the government and Jiaotong University announced an the start of an investigation, which ended with his dismissal Friday.

If Chen's team did indeed create a fake chip, how they tricked a nation - and a large group of scientific experts from the government and industry - is still unknown. Whether Chen or members of his research team face criminal charges is also unclear.

Reached Sunday by telephone, Chen declined to comment. He simply said: "This is not the right moment to talk," the New York Times reported.

People who know Chen, however, are perplexed.

"He was really brilliant," says Yang Yunxia, a Microsoft employee here. "None of us can understand this."

According to former colleagues, press accounts and his own writings, Chen was born in coastal Fujian Province in 1968, along with a twin brother. He earned a bachelor's degree at Tongji University in Shanghai and then, in 1991, moved to the United States to study computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1998, he earned a master's degree and Ph.D. at Texas while working at Motorola's Austin research center, he wrote in his dissertation.

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