Steven Chu

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Steven Chu
Steven Chu official DOE portrait.jpg
12th United States Secretary of Energy
In office
January 21, 2009 April 22, 2013
President Barack Obama
Deputy Daniel Poneman
Preceded by Samuel Bodman
Succeeded by Ernest Moniz
Personal details
Born (1948-02-28) February 28, 1948 (age 71)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political party Democratic [1] [2]
Spouse(s)Lisa Chu-Thielbar (divorced)
Jean Fetter(m. 1997)
Father Ju-Chin Chu
Education University of Rochester (BA, BS)
University of California, Berkeley (MS, PhD)
Awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1997)
Website University website
Scientific career
Fields atomic physics, biological physics, polymer physics
Thesis Observation of the forbidden magnetic dipole transition 6²P1/2-7²P1/2 in atomic thallium  (1976)
Doctoral advisor Eugene D. Commins
Doctoral students Michale Fee
Steven Chu
Chinese 朱棣文
Hanyu Pinyin Zhū Dìwén

Steven Chu [3] (Chinese :朱棣文; pinyin :Zhū Dìwén, [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] born February 28, 1948) [9] is an American physicist and a former government official. He is known for his research at Bell Labs and Stanford University regarding the cooling and trapping of atoms with laser light, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997, along with his scientific colleagues Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips. [10]

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.


Chu served as the 12th United States Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2013. At the time of his appointment as Energy Secretary, Chu was a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where his research [11] [12] [13] was concerned primarily with the study of biological systems at the single molecule level. [14] Chu resigned as energy secretary on April 22, 2013. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] He returned to Stanford as Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology.

United States Secretary of Energy position

The United States Secretary of Energy is the head of the United States Department of Energy, a member of the Cabinet of the United States, and fifteenth in the presidential line of succession. The position was formed on October 1, 1977 with the creation of the Department of Energy when President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Energy Organization Act. Originally the post focused on energy production and regulation. The emphasis soon shifted to developing technology for better and more efficient energy sources as well as energy education. After the end of the Cold War, the department's attention also turned toward radioactive waste disposal and maintenance of environmental quality. The current Secretary of Energy is Rick Perry

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), commonly referred to as Berkeley Lab, is a United States national laboratory that conducts scientific research on behalf of the United States Department of Energy (DOE). It is located in the Berkeley Hills near Berkeley, California, overlooking the main campus of the University of California, Berkeley. It is managed and operated by the University of California.

Chu is a vocal advocate for more research into renewable energy and nuclear power, arguing that a shift away from fossil fuels is essential to combating climate change. [20] [21] [22] He has conceived of a global "glucose economy", a form of a low-carbon economy, in which glucose from tropical plants is shipped around like oil is today. [23] On February 22, 2019, Chu began a one-year term as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. [24]

Renewable energy energy that is collected from renewable resources

Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.

Nuclear power power generated from sustained nuclear fission

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. As a nuclear technology, nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium. Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Generating electricity from fusion power remains at the focus of international research. This article mostly deals with nuclear fission power for electricity generation.

Fossil fuel fuel formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms

A fossil fuel is a fuel formed by natural processes, such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms, containing energy originating in ancient photosynthesis. The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years. Fossil fuels contain high percentages of carbon and include petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Other commonly used derivatives include kerosene and propane. Fossil fuels range from volatile materials with low carbon to hydrogen ratios like methane, to liquids like petroleum, to nonvolatile materials composed of almost pure carbon, like anthracite coal. Methane can be found in hydrocarbon fields either alone, associated with oil, or in the form of methane clathrates.

Education and early life

Chu was born in St. Louis, Missouri, [25] with ancestry from Liuhe, Taicang, in Jiangnan, China, [26] and graduated from Garden City High School. [27] He received both a B.A. in mathematics and a B.S. in physics in 1970 from the University of Rochester. [28] He went on to earn his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley under Eugene D. Commins, in 1976, [29] during which he was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. [30]

Missouri State of the United States of America

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. Missouri is bordered by eight states : Iowa to the north, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee to the east, Arkansas to the south, and Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska to the west. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.

Liuhe is a town under the jurisdiction of Taicang county-level city in Jiangsu province, China. Liuhe has an area of 68 square kilometers (26 sq mi), with around 56 000 permanent residents.

Taicang County-level city in Jiangsu, Peoples Republic of China

Taicang is a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The city located in the south of the Yangtze River estuary opposite Nantong, being bordered by Shanghai proper to the south, while the river also delineates much of its northeastern boundary along Chongming Island.

Chu comes from a family of scholars. His father, Ju-Chin Chu, earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT and taught at Washington University in St. Louis and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and his mother studied economics. His maternal grandfather, Shu-tian Li, earned a Ph.D. from Cornell University, and was a professor and president of Tianjin University (Peiyang University). His mother's uncle, Li Shu-hua, a physical scientist, studied physics at the Sorbonne before returning to China. [10] Chu's older brother, Gilbert Chu, is a professor of biochemistry and medicine at Stanford University. His younger brother, Morgan Chu, is a partner and former co-managing partner at the law firm Irell & Manella. [31] According to Chu, his two brothers and four cousins have four Ph.D.s, three M.D.s, and a J.D. among them.

Ju-Chin Chu was a Chinese American chemical engineer and father of Steven Chu. He was born in Taicang, Jiangsu, China. Chu attended Suzhou High School, Tsinghua University and National Southwestern Associated University in China before he went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Ph.D. education in 1946. After graduating from MIT, he taught at Washington University in St. Louis from 1946 to 1949, at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute from 1949 to 1966, and at Virginia Tech from 1967 to 1972. He became a Academia Sinica member in 1964.

Chemical engineering branch of science that applies physical sciences and life sciences together with applied mathematics and economics to produce, transform, transport, and properly use chemicals, materials and energy

Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that uses principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and economics to efficiently use, produce, design, transport and transform energy and materials. The work of chemical engineers can range from the utilisation of nano-technology and nano-materials in the laboratory to large-scale industrial processes that convert chemicals, raw materials, living cells, microorganisms, and energy into useful forms and products.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology University in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Institute is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university, with an urban campus that extends more than a mile alongside the Charles River. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. It has since played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, mathematics, and technology, and is widely known for its innovation and academic strength, making it one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.

In 1997, he married Jean Fetter, a British-American Oxford-trained physicist. [25] He has two sons, Geoffrey and Michael, from a previous marriage to Lisa Chu-Thielbar. [10]

University of Oxford University in Oxford, United Kingdom

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Chu is interested in sports such as baseball, swimming, and cycling. He taught himself tennis—by reading a book—in the eighth grade, and was a second-string substitute for the school team for three years. He also taught himself how to pole vault using bamboo poles obtained from the local carpet store. [10] Chu said he never learned to speak Chinese because his parents always spoke to their children in English. [25]

Career and research

Steven Chu lecturing Steven Chu NSF.jpg
Steven Chu lecturing

After obtaining his doctorate he remained at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher for two years before joining Bell Labs, where he and his several co-workers carried out his Nobel Prize-winning laser cooling work. He left Bell Labs and became a professor of physics at Stanford University in 1987, [10] serving as the chair of its Physics Department from 1990 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2001. At Stanford, Chu and three others initiated the Bio-X program, which focuses on interdisciplinary research in biology and medicine, [32] and played a key role in securing the funding for the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology. [33] In August 2004, Chu was appointed as the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, and joined UC Berkeley's Department of Physics and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. [34] Under Chu's leadership, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been a center of research into biofuels and solar energy. [20] He spearheaded the laboratory's Helios project, an initiative to develop methods of harnessing solar power as a source of renewable energy for transportation. [34]

Chu's early research focused on atomic physics by developing laser cooling techniques and the magneto-optical trapping of atoms using lasers. He and his co-workers at Bell Labs developed a way to cool atoms by employing six laser beams opposed in pairs and arranged in three directions at right angles to each other. Trapping atoms with this method allows scientists to study individual atoms with great accuracy. Additionally, the technique can be used to construct an atomic clock with great precision. [35]

At Stanford, Chu's research interests expanded into biological physics and polymer physics at the single-molecule level. He studied enzyme activity and protein and RNA folding using techniques like fluorescence resonance energy transfer, atomic force microscopy, and optical tweezers. His polymer physics research used individual DNA molecules to study polymer dynamics and their phase transitions. He continued researching atomic physics as well and developed new methods of laser cooling and trapping. [36]

Honors and awards

Steven Chu in 2014 Professor Steven Chu ForMemRS headshot.jpg
Steven Chu in 2014

Steven Chu is a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for the "development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light", shared with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips. [37]

He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Academia Sinica, and is a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Korean Academy of Science and Engineering. [38] He was also awarded the Humboldt Prize by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1995.

Chu received an honorary doctorate from Boston University when he was the keynote speaker at the 2007 commencement exercises. [39] He is a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council. [40] Diablo Magazine awarded him an Eco Award in its April 2009 issue, [41] shortly after he was nominated for Energy Secretary.

Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard University awarded him honorary doctorates during their 2010 and 2009 commencement exercises, respectively. [42] [43] He was awarded an honorary degree from Yale University during its 2010 commencement. [44] He was also awarded an honorary degree from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, the same institution at which his father taught for several years, during its 2011 commencement. [45] Penn State University awarded him an honorary doctorate during their 2012 commencement exercises. [46] In 2014, Chu was awarded an honorary doctorate from Williams College, during which he gave a talk moderated by Williams College Professor Protik Majumder. [47] Chu was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Amherst College in 2017, where he later gave a lecture titled "Climate Change and Needed Technical Solutions for a Sustainable Future" in March 2018. [48] [49]

Chu was elected an international fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering UK in 2011, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2014. [50] His nomination reads:

Steven Chu's development of methods to laser cool and trap atoms was recognised by the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. He also pioneered the development of atom interferometry for precision measurement, and he introduced methods to visualize and manipulate single bio-molecules simultaneously with optical tweezers. Throughout his career, he has sought new solutions to the energy and climate challenges. From January 2009 to April 2013, he was the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama, and initiated the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, the Energy Innovation Hubs, and the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings. [51]

U.S. Secretary of Energy

Steven Chu meeting with President Barack Obama on February 5, 2009. President Obama and Secretary Chu.jpg
Steven Chu meeting with President Barack Obama on February 5, 2009.
Steven Chu in 2011 Clean Fleets Announcement 8 of 14 (5755400395).jpg
Steven Chu in 2011

His nomination to be Secretary of Energy was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2009. [52] On January 21, 2009, Chu was sworn in as Secretary of Energy in the Barack Obama administration. Chu is the first person appointed to the U.S. Cabinet after having won a Nobel Prize. [53] He is also the second Chinese American to be a member of the U.S. Cabinet, after former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. [54]

His scientific work continued, however, and he even published a paper on gravitational redshift in Nature in February 2010 [55] and another one he co-authored in July 2010. [56] [57]

In March 2011 Chu said that regulators at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not delay approving construction licenses for planned U.S. nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. [58]

In August 2011 Chu praised an advisory panel report on curbing the environmental risks of natural-gas development. Chu responded to the panel's report on hydraulic fracturing, the controversial drilling method that is enabling a U.S. gas boom while bringing fears of groundwater contamination. The report called for better data collection of air and water data, as well as "rigorous" air pollution standards and mandatory disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Chu said that he would "be working closely with my colleagues in the Administration to review the recommendations and to chart a path for continued development of this vital energy resource in a safe manner". [59]

Chu faced controversy for a statement he made prior to being appointed, claiming in a September 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal that "somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." [60] However, in March 2012 he retracted this comment, saying "since I walked in the door as secretary of Energy I've been doing everything in my powers to do what we can to … reduce those prices" and that he "no longer shares the view [that we need to figure out how to boost gasoline prices in America]". [61]

On February 12, 2013, Chu was the designated survivor during the State of the Union address. [62]

On February 1, 2013, Chu announced his intent to resign. [63] [17] In his resignation announcement, he warned of the risks of climate change from continued reliance on fossil fuels, and wrote, "the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions". [64] He resigned on April 22, 2013.

Energy and climate change

Chu has been a vocal advocate for more research into renewable energy and nuclear power, arguing that a shift away from fossil fuels is essential to combat climate change and global warming. [20] [21] [22] He also spoke at the 2009 and 2011 National Science Bowl about the importance of America's science students, emphasizing their future role in environmental planning and global initiative. Chu said that a typical coal power plant emits 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant. [65]

Steven Chu (right) with IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol (middle) and Oliver Inderwildi (left) at the Oxford Union, University of Oxford OliverInderwildi-FatihBirol-StevenChu-OxfordUniversity.jpg
Steven Chu (right) with IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol (middle) and Oliver Inderwildi (left) at the Oxford Union, University of Oxford

Chu warns that global warming could wipe out California farms within the century. [66]

He joined the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international collaboration between business and science established to create momentum for the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. [67]

In 2015, Chu signed the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change on the final day of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The declaration was signed by a total of 76 Nobel Laureates and handed to then-President of the French Republic, François Hollande, as part of the successful COP21 climate summit in Paris. [68]

Chu was instrumental in submitting a winning bid for the Energy Biosciences Institute, a BP-funded $500 million multidisciplinary collaboration between UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and the University of Illinois. This sparked controversy on the Berkeley campus, where some fear the alliance could harm the school's reputation for academic integrity. [69] [70] [71] [72]

Based partially on his research at UC Berkeley, Chu has speculated that a global "glucose economy", a form of a low-carbon economy, could replace the current system. In the future, special varieties of high-glucose plants would be grown in the tropics, processed, and then the chemical would be shipped around like oil is today to other countries. The St. Petersburg Times has stated that Chu's concept "shows vision on the scale needed to deal with global warming". [23]

Chu has also advocated making the roofs of buildings and the tops of roads around the world white or other light colors, which may reflect sunlight back into space and mitigate global warming. The effect would be, according to Chu, similar to taking every car in the world off the roads for about 11 years. [23] Samuel Thernstrom, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-director of its Geoengineering Project, expressed support for the idea in The American , praising Chu for "do[ing] the nation a service" with the concept. [73] Chu is on the board of directors of Xyleco, a company developing alternate energy. [74]

See also

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Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Bodman
United States Secretary of Energy
Succeeded by
Daniel Poneman