Temple professor Xiaoxing Xi has decided to take a leave of absence following allegations that he shared technology secrets with the Chinese government and Chinese businesses.
Federal prosecutors charged Xi with four counts of wire fraud Thursday in connection with allegations that he handed over sensitive technology information to organizations in China.
He appeared in court Thursday and posted property to make $100,000 bail.
Xi, who faces a maximum of 80 years in prison and a $1 million fine, will no longer serve as chair of the physics department, a university statement read.
“In light of Dr. Xi’s needs to focus on the matter at hand, he has chosen to take a temporary leave of absence from his current administrative post and an acting chair has been appointed to the Physics Department,” a university statement read. “Dr. Xi remains a member of the faculty.”
James Napolitano, the associate chair of the physics department, will serve as the acting chair of the department according to a Daily News report.
Xi’s sudden arrest stunned the university.
“It’s shocking to me to see what happened yesterday,” Provost Hai-Lung Dai told the Inquirer. “He’s a person of very high integrity. This is the reason we appointed him to the department chair.”
Xi, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, joined Temple in 2009, after previously serving as a physics professor at Pennsylvania State University. His research interests lie in material physics, specifically in superconductivity, or conducting electricity through a material without resistance. Some superconductors are a thin film which can be used to make more effective computers.
During a sabbatical from Penn State in 2002, Xi helped build a device which can grow superconductive films from magnesium diboride while working for an unspecified American company, according to the indictment unsealed on Thursday. It alleges that Xi later used a U.S. Department of Defense grant to buy the device from the company for one year on the condition that he would only use it for testing purposes – he would not reproduce it, sell it, or transfer it.
Federal prosecutors accused Xi of violating that agreement by offering the technology behind the device to Chinese entities, including the Chinese government, for perks.
From the indictment: “In exchange for his efforts to advance the field of superconductivity in China … Xi repeatedly sought lucrative and prestigious appointments in China.”
Xi allegedly sent emails in 2010 that proposed building a state-of-the-art thin film laboratory in China, according to the Inquirer.
Xi and the U.S. Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment on Saturday. Several of Xi’s colleagues in the physics department did not wish to comment for this article.
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JackTomczuk.