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Idaho scientist fled oppression in homeland


Wusi Maki left China, arrived in U.S. in 1997

University of Idaho scientist Wusi Maki wasn’t always free to use her mind like she is today as she develops a new way to test for E. coli and other harmful pathogens.

Born in the 1950s in China, Maki spent eight years in a “brain-washing camp” on the Russian border run by Mao Zedong and his Chinese Communist Party.

“Everybody had to go,” she said. “There was no choice.”

At age 16, Maki was taken from her family in Shanghai and sent to the border where she was taught to grow potatoes, soybeans and wheat. The agricultural commune was part of Mao’s plan to transform China’s economy and take over the West. Every night, armed guards would walk the camp making sure the workers were reading Mao’s “Red Book” and could recite passages from memory.

Maki left the camp at age 24. She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in China but fled the country after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. She earned a doctorate degree from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

She came to the United States in 1997, where she met and married Gary Maki, who also works for UI’s Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research dealing with computer chips and microprocessors that routinely go into space on major NASA projects.

Gary Maki is the center’s former director but was demoted in 2007 after being connected to a letter criticizing a school researcher.

Wusi Maki said she appreciated her new freedom, both personal and professional.

“So many Americans don’t know what kind of life is on the other side of the Earth,” she said. “There is no freedom.”

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