A Temple University physics professor has been indicted on charges of selling sensitive technologies to the Chinese government.
Xiaoxing Xi, 47, is a world-renowned expert in superconductor technology, but it was a breakthrough made by other researchers at a private company that he allegedly copied and sold to entities in China.
According to court documents, the Chinese national spent 2002-2003 working at the unnamed American company while colleagues there made the breakthrough. The company produced a new piece of technology that “revolutionized the field of superconducting magnesium diboride thin film growth.”
Superconductors conduct electricity without electrical resistance, improving the performance of certain technologies.
In 2006, Xi used U.S. Department of Defense grant money to license the superconductor device, but under the condition that he could only test it.
The U.S. attorney’s office, however, says emails show Xi repeatedly shared the technology in an attempt to secure lucrative positions in his home country.
Xi was indicted on four counts of wire fraud, and faces up to 80 years in prison. He was released on a $100,000 bond, and is due back in court next month. He did not respond to requests for comment.
A wave of high-profile spying cases have been brought against Chinese nationals in recent years, according to Peter Toren, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice at Washington-based law firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley.
He says the Obama administration is devoting more resources to these types of cases.
“The greatest driving force for the U.S. economy is our technology, is our innovation, is our creativity, and they want to do everything to protect it,” said Toren.
Stealing trade secrets is simply cheaper and faster than developing them in your own laboratories, he said, adding that China isn’t the only player to attempt this type of economic espionage.
“The United States in the past has engaged in this kind of activity, so it is hard to have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude toward it,” Toren said. “Doesn’t make it OK, but I think it should be placed in that context, as well.”
In a statement, Temple University said it’s naming a new physics department chair, but that Xi remains on faculty at this time.