The Los Alamos Club: Chinese Scientists Go From U.S. To Strengthen China

Chinese scientists who have worked at the most sensitive U.S. labs have returned home to bolster China's weaponry and challenge to the world.

Main Gate, Los Alamos Laboratory, USNPS photo

Main Gate, Los Alamos Laboratory, USNPS photo

Strider Technologies, a private company offering technology to protect corporations from IP theft, recently released a report detailing the People’s Republic of China’s decades-long recruitment of leading scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

According to a company release, the report’s findings are the latest evidence of the PRC employing its broader Talent Superpower Strategy to incentivize Chinese academics, researchers, and scientists to go abroad, deepen their expertise, and return to advance China’s strategic interests.

Between 1987 and 2021, the report finds that at least 162 scientists who had worked at Los Alamos returned to the PRC to support a variety of domestic research and development programs. Of the 162 returnees, at least 59 scientists were selectees of the PRC’s flagship talent recruitment program—the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP) and its youth branch, the Youth Thousand Talents Plan (YTTP).

Most concerning, 15 returnees worked as permanent staff members at Los Alamos. Thirteen of the 15 former permanent staff members were recruited into PRC government talent programs. While at Los Alamos, these scientists sponsored visiting scholars and postdoctoral researchers from the PRC and received U.S. government funding for sensitive research. At least one former staff member held a Department of Energy (DoE) “Q Clearance” allowing access to Top Secret Restricted Data and National Security Information.

Moreover, since returning to China, Los Alamos alumni have helped the PRC advance key military and dual-use technologies in the focus areas of hypersonics, deep-earth penetrating warheads, unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), jet engines, and submarine noise reduction.

“The PRC is committing significant resources to recruit scientists around the world, including those who have worked at our leading national laboratories like Los Alamos National Laboratory,” said Greg Levesque, CEO, and Co-Founder of Strider. “Our research shows the PRC has seen a significant return on their investment with advances in critical military technologies. Now, more than ever, it is a national security imperative for the U.S. and our allies to identify and protect leading talent in both the public and private sectors.”

Armed with data gathered and analyzed by the Strider Global Intelligence Team, the report – “The Los Alamos Club: How the People’s Republic of China Recruited Leading Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Advance Its Military Programs” –   shares specific details on the scientists successfully recruited from Los Alamos and their achievements on behalf of the PRC since returning.

Key findings include:

Hypersonics and Aerodynamics:  Dr. Chen Shiyi spent the 1990s at Los Alamos and, after returning to China, served as President of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) where recruited scientists with links to Los Alamos. Dr. Chen Shiyi is a world-renowned expert in fluid dynamics and turbulence who has made major contributions to China’s hypersonics and aerodynamics programs. He was the Alonzo G. Decker Jr. Chair in Engineering and Science, the Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, and Professor at both Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and Department of Physics and Astronomy of Johns Hopkins University. He was a research scientist at the Bartol Research Institute, University of Delaware, and a visiting faculty member at the Department of Mathematics, Colorado State University. Chen was also a researcher at the IBM Research Division. He is currently president of the South University of Science and Technology in China. Chen is also a fellow of American Physical Society and Institute of Physics.

Deep Penetrating Warheads: One of Dr. Chen’s first recruits, Zhao Yusheng, spent 18 years of his career at Los Alamos, Zhao received grants totaling $19.8 million in US government funding, including for sensitive research on deep-earth penetrating warheads. While at the lab, Zhao sponsored a postdoctoral researcher who filed a national defense patent on similar technology upon returning to the PRC.  The researcher is now affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), the PRC’s premier nuclear weapons R&D and production facility. Chen received a Ph.D from Stony Brook University. While serving as a senior scientist and a team leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he pioneered in high-pressure neutron science and experimentation for 18 years. At the University of Nevada, he was appointed Executive Director of High Pressure Science and Engineering Center (a DOE/NNSA Center of Excellence). He is a board member of the Material Research Society (MRS).

Submarine Noise Reduction: Dr. He Guowei is contributing to the PRC’s efforts to develop quieter submarines to evade detection. While at Los Alamos in the late 1990s, Dr. He cooperated extensively with Dr. Chen Shiyi. After he returned to the PRC, Dr. He worked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mechanics (IMCAS) where his team developed computer models that help to quickly and accurately predict turbulence generated by submarines. Dr. He has also worked at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Marseille and Center for Astrophysics of CEA at Saclay in France. In 2020, he joined NASA's Langley Research Center as a senior staff scientist. In 2009 he became an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and in 2015 became a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: ​​ In 2016, Chen Shiyi recruited Dr. Shan Xiaowen to serve in SUSTech’s Department of Mechanics and Aerospace Engineering. Shan worked at Los Alamos from 1991 to 1998 and collaborated with Chen in the early ’90s. In 2019, Dr. Shan became Head of the SUSTech Intelligent Aviation R&D Center, which focuses on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies. Under Shan’s leadership, the center produced a prototype Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAV with both civil and military applications. Shan received his doctorate from Dartmouth College in 1991. From 1998 to 2005 he was a software engineer at Microsoft Corp., and from 2005 to 2012 a Senior Director at Exa Corporation. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society.

To read the full report visit:

Strider has operations in the United States and the United Kingdom. 

Martin Barillas is a former U.S. diplomat. He is the author of Shaken Earth, available at Amazon.

Topic tags:
Geopolitics academia China United States United Kingdom