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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: August 17, 2012 NO.34 AUGUST 23, 2012
An Academic All-Star
China's youngest academician is a leader in the country's computer chip industry
By Tang Yuankai


ACADEMIC STAR: Deng Zhonghan, the youngest academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, attends a meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 11, 2011 (XING GUANGLI) 

The stereotype of what a scientist looks like—that of an eccentric, messy-haired old man—doesn't apply to China's newest crop of academicians.

Today's leading scientists are getting younger, and Deng Zhonghan, known as the "Father of the Chinese Chip," is the youngest of the group.

Three years ago, then 41-year-old Deng was selected as academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE). And as Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Vimicro International Corp. (Vimicro), he was one of the few academicians who have run enterprises.

Founded in 1999 at Zhongguancun, China's Silicon Valley in Beijing, VIMC is a well-known company dedicated to the development of advanced mixed-signal multimedia chips. Its chip solutions have been adopted by multinational companies such as Sony, Samsung, HP, Philips, Fujitsu, Logitech, Lenovo, Bird and ZTE.

Winning acclaim

Though he has strived since childhood to become a scientist, Deng didn't expect to receive such a high honor so early in his career.

"To me, academicians have always been mysterious and respectable older people who made outstanding contributions to the country. They seemed very far from common people and were my models," said Deng.

Those people he once looked up to are now his peers. But Deng's academic career shows that his success was no accident.

In 1987, he began studying at the University of Science and Technology of China, majoring in Earth and Space Science.

From 1992 to 1997, he pursued further studies at University of California, Berkeley, United States. He received a Doctor's Degree in Electrical Engineering, a Master's Degree in Economic Management, and another Master's Degree in Physics, becoming the first scholar to hold degrees ranging from science and engineering to business disciplines since the founding of the university 130 years ago.

Following that, he came back to China and became commander in chief of the Star China Chip Project. Initiated in 1999, the project was launched in a bid to develop chips with indigenous intellectual property right (IPR).

The mission was supported by then Ministry of Science and Technology (MST), Ministry of Information Industry (MII), National Development and Reform Commission, China Association for Science and Technology and the Beijing Municipal Government.

Vimicro was founded in 1999 to undertake the project, with Deng as the head together with a team of like-minded scholars who shared his overseas experience.

In March 2001, the project produced Star One, China's first large-scale digital image-processing chip with indigenous IPR. Smaller and more efficient than competing products, it hit a sales volume of 1 million the first year it was put on market.

Lacking domestically designed chips was once a big disadvantage in China's information industry, where chip design and production can now be seen as a sign of the country's comprehensive national strength.

Prior to the advances spurred by people like Deng, China imported hundreds of millions of microprocessor chips for manufacturing supercomputers. Star One changed this imbalance.

That's why Star One was hailed as a major breakthrough alongside the Shenzhou manned spacecraft and the rice genome, which were renowned by media as the country's major scientific and technological achievements of the 1990s.

Thanks to the newly invented chips and the huge profit it brought about, Vimicro was listed in NASDAQ in 2005.

To date, Vimicro's chips have been widely used in areas such as PCs, cellphones and security monitoring. In 2010, the company acquired an exclusive supplier contract for the PC camera chip from Apple Inc.

Furthermore, the company's chips have been used in laptops and cellphones of global brands including Samsung, Philips, HP, Sony, Dell and Lenovo.

In the year 2006 alone, the company sold more than 100 million chips of the Star series, accounting for over 60 percent of the global PC image input chip market. In 2008, its sales volume of cellphone multimedia chips also surpassed the 100 million-units mark.

These two achievements for the first time put China-made integrated circuit chips into a strong position in the world's two major areas —personal computer image input and mobile digital media. The project's success earned the young scholar the tile of academician by CAE.

"I hope to bring the benefits of science and technology to as many people as possible, and feel the power of those advancements," said Deng.

He was pleased to see the Star series bring the convenience of Internet video communication to people across the world and improve their lives.

Deng was humbled by the "big honor" of becoming an academician, and said he feels a sense of responsibility for the country's future.

"China wants to build an innovative country, which requires the young to take the lead," said Deng. "Being chosen as an academician is a new starting point in my life. It's time to make even bigger efforts."

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