A dean at one of China's top universities has been fired after his claims to have invented a new computer chip turned out to be a fraud, the school announced Friday.
The scandal at Shanghai Jiaotong University, the alma mater of former President Jiang Zemin, is an embarrassment for Chinese leaders, who are trying to promote homegrown technological advances to match the country's economic progress.
Shanghai Jiaotong found that Chen Jin faked research on the Hanxin digital signal processing chip and that it couldn't perform functions that he claimed, such as verifying fingerprints, the university said in a statement on its Web site.
It said Chen was fired from posts as a dean and professor at the university's Microelectronics School and ordered to repay an unspecified amount of government money spent on developing the chip.
Phone calls to the university press office and the Microelectronics School rang unanswered late Friday afternoon. No number was listed for Hanxin Sci-Tech Co., where the official Xinhua News Agency said Chen was a general manager.
Shades of stem cell scandal
The case resembles that of South Korean cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk — a researcher who announced advances in a hot field in an Asian nation eager for scientific respect, only to crash in disgrace when his claims were revealed to be a sham. On Friday, South Korean prosecutors indicted Hwang on charges of fraud, embezzlement and bioethics violations.
Unlike Hwang's case, the Chen scandal received little coverage in China's entirely state-controlled media, possibly reflecting efforts to contain damage to the country's image.
Beijing has invested in recent years in a wide range of research, from genetic engineering to nuclear power, hoping to win prestige and create profitable technologies.
In its most visible achievement, China has launched two manned space missions, becoming only the third nation to do so.
China's 'innovation society'
In February, the government announced an ambitious 15-year plan to pursue 11 fields including genetics, nuclear power, lasers and agriculture in an effort to develop "frontier technologies."
President Hu Jintao and other leaders have called for China to become an "innovation society," boosting the role of technology and research in economic development.
In the computer chip scandal, Shanghai Jiaotong, one of China's top science schools, said it began investigating Chen after receiving a letter alleging that his research was fraudulent.
The school said it asked the government to take over after an initial investigation. It said the probe, begun in January, involved extensive interviews of Chen, his accusers and research team members.
Investigators found that Chen's Hanxin I chip couldn't perform functions that he said it could, and that later generations of the chip also did not perform as claimed, the statement said. In addition, it said the researchers did not own all the technology they claimed to own.
Banned from research
Chen was found to have deceived technological appraisal teams from the central and local governments, the university and government ministries that funded his research, the statement said.
Chen was banned from conducting further state-funded research, the statement said. It didn't say whether he would face any further consequences.
The university "strongly supports the severe actions taken by relevant government departments," the statement said. It did not elaborate.
Researchers working at the school have been warned to comply with ethical guidelines and be "disciplined," it said.
"In the future," it said, "the school will strengthen its management of research and its oversight of research funds."