American researcher Shane Todd's work at the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME) did not involve any classified military research, an inquiry into his death heard yesterday.
A comprehensive account of his employment record there by his colleagues and direct supervisor, Dr Patrick Lo, also showed he was not involved in any work for Huawei Technologies, except for a nine-day stint examining the Chinese firm's commercial radio frequency devices.
In fact, IME does not conduct any classified military-related research work at all, said Dr Lo, the institute's deputy executive director for research.
Dr Todd was found hanged in his apartment near Chinatown last June shortly after he quit IME. His parents have alleged that he was murdered over his work, which they said had links to Huawei, a firm that has been suspected of espionage by the United States government.
Yesterday, during the fifth day of an inquiry into Dr Todd's death, three of his colleagues and Dr Lo gave a detailed account of his work at the IME and the institute's dealings with Huawei.
IME has had five contracts with Huawei since 2007, but none of them were military in nature or classified, said Dr Lo. Those contracts also included other firms, such as Hitachi Cable and Nissan Chemical Industries from Japan.
The IME researchers also refuted claims in a Financial Times (FT) article in February about Dr Todd's death, which suggested he was involved in a joint IME-Huawei project that could be put to military ends. This involved a semiconductor material called gallium nitride (GaN), the FT said.
Dr Lo, however, clarified that while Dr Todd had been involved in talks for a project between the IME and Huawei, these were to develop a GaN amplifier for commercial use.
He also gave details of the proposed project, which eventually fell through.
Dr Todd joined the IME in 2010 as a fresh doctoral graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the court heard. But upon his request, he was transferred internally to a new GaN-on-silicon research group in March 2011 even though he had no experience in the field.
"I don't believe that a person should work forever in the same field as his PhD work," said Dr Lo, who headed the new group. "If they are interested, a new programme is a good platform to entertain young staff's interest and to grow that and the programme together."
Dr Todd's colleagues said he helped recruit more people to the group, which is focused on using the material to lower costs for the industry, particularly in the power and radio frequency fields.
The FT article had suggested that after he joined the group, Dr Todd travelled to the US to purchase equipment from Veeco, a manufacturer of process devices, which the article said could be used for military purposes.
Dr Wang Weizhu, 30, who worked with Dr Todd in the group and assumed responsibility for the machine, said it was used to develop semi-conductor films. The only formula or "recipe" which the group received from Veeco was for LED application.
"Currently, we are just starting to develop the recipe for GaN-on-silicon from scratch. None of these recipes are defence or military-related," she said.
Another colleague in the seven-man group, Dr Yuan Li, 28, said the group's projects could not be used for military purposes.
"The speed of the devices would not be fast enough. The operating frequency of the devices used for power electronics is much slower... than for military applications," he said.
Speaking to media after the day's proceedings, Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong said he understood that Mr Raymond Bonner - the journalist behind the FT article - was in Singapore.
He added that the State would welcome Mr Bonner if he decides to testify at the inquiry.
"The State would be happy to make the application (to the court) because we want the full story about this case to be told."