Education or espionage? A Chinese student takes his homework home to China

Cynthia McFadden:

Meet the man dubbed China’s Elon Musk, Ruopeng Liu. Like Musk, he’s working on sending people into space, and has already sent them flying. He’s the man behind jet-powered surfboards, and is a multi-billionaire at just 35 years old.

“We call ourselves the future studio,” said Liu during an NBC News visit to his company’s headquarters here. “We design the future.”

But is he guilty of stealing the intellectual property of a famous American scientist?

Dr. David Smith of Duke University is one of the world’s experts on something called “metamaterials.” Liu, who says he had long been a fan of Smith’s, came to the U.S. a dozen years ago with the express intent of studying at Smith’s lab. Some observers, including the former assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, believe he was actually on a mission from the Chinese government.

Dr. Smith is famous for creating a metamaterial that functions as a so-called “invisibility cloak.” Metamaterials, he explains, are “some weird material that doesn’t exist in nature.” Dr. Smith’s invisibility cloak is not like Harry Potter’s famous version as it does not hide things from the human eye, but it does make them invisible to microwave signals.