MIT professor arrested over research ties to native China

Gang Chen, respected nanoengineering professor, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted

January 14, 2021
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Source: istock

US prosecutors have arrested a Chinese-born nanoengineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on charges of failing to disclose extensive Chinese government ties while seeking federal grant support.

The professor, Gang Chen, has collected more than $19 million (£14 million) in federal research support since 2013, yet it is alleged that he did not describe to grant agencies his affiliations with various Chinese entities.

During that same time period, federal prosecutors alleged, Professor Chen received some $29 million in foreign support, in part for actively promoting China’s scientific and economic development.

His arrest is part of a series of stepped-up enforcement efforts during the Trump administration against US academic scientists alleged to have undisclosed ties to China.

One of the most prominent is Charles Lieber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University who also works in nanotechnology.

While the Trump administration has made clear its determination to prevent China from benefiting from US research expertise, federal prosecutors in the cases of Professor Chen and Professor Lieber and others have emphasised that foreign collaboration is legal if fully disclosed.

A naturalised US citizen, Professor Chen is the director of MIT’s Pappalardo Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratories and its Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center.

MIT, in a statement, called Professor Chen “a long-serving and highly respected member of the research community”, and said it was “deeply distressed” by his arrest.

“MIT believes the integrity of research is a fundamental responsibility, and we take seriously concerns about improper influence in US research,” the institution said in its statement.

Professor Chen was charged by federal prosecutors with committing wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement in a tax return. The charges against the 56-year-old professor together hold out the possibility of 30 years in prison.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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