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 66)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political party Democratic[1][2]
Alma mater
Steven Chu
Chinese 朱棣文
Hanyu Pinyin Zhū Dìwén

Steven Chu (Chinese: 朱棣文; pinyin: Zhū Dìwén,[3][4][5][6][7] born February 28, 1948[8]) is an American physicist who served as the 12th United States Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2013. Chu is known for his research at Bell Labs in cooling and trapping of atoms with laser light, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997, along with his scientific colleagues Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips.[9] At the time of his appointment as Energy Secretary, he 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[10][11][12] was concerned primarily with the study of biological systems at the single molecule level.[13] Previously, he had been a professor of physics at Stanford University. He 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.[14][15][16] For example, 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.[17] On February 1, 2013, he announced he would not serve for the President's second term and resigned on April 22, 2013.[18][19][20]

Education and early life[edit]

Chu[21] was born in St. Louis, Missouri, with ancestry from Liuhe, Taicang, in Jiangsu,[22] and graduated from Garden City High School.[23] He received both a B.A. in mathematics and a B.S. in physics in 1970 from the University of Rochester. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976, during which he was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.[24]

Chu comes from a family of scholars. His father Ju-Chin Chu earned an advanced chemical engineering degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and taught at Washington University in St. Louis and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, while his mother studied economics. His maternal grandfather, Dr. Shu-tian Li, earned a Ph.D. degree from Cornell University and his mother's uncle, Li Shu-hua, a physical scientist, studied physics at the Sorbonne before they returned to China.[9] His older brother, Gilbert Chu, is a professor and researcher of biochemistry and medicine at Stanford University. His younger brother, Morgan Chu, is a partner and the former Co-Managing Partner at the law firm Irell & Manella LLP.[25] According to Chu, his two brothers and four cousins earned three M.D.s, four Ph.D.s, and a J.D. among them. In 1997, he married Jean Fetter, a British American and an Oxford-trained physicist.[21] He has two sons, Geoffrey and Michael, from a previous marriage to Lisa Chu-Thielbar.[9]

Beside his scientific career, Chu has also developed interest in various sports, including 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.[9] Chu said he never learned to speak Chinese because his parents always talked to him and his brothers in English, although he said (in 1997) that he was trying to learn Mandarin, believing that if he could stay in China for "at least six months", he would become fluent.[21]

Career and research[edit]

Steven Chu lecturing.

After obtaining his doctorate, Chu 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,[9] serving as the chair of its Physics Department from 1990 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2001. While at Stanford, Chu, together with three other professors, initiated the Bio-X program, which focuses on interdisciplinary research in biology and medicine,[26] and played an important role in securing the funding of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology.[27] 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.[28] Under Chu's leadership, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been a center of research into biofuels and solar energy technologies.[14] He spearheaded the laboratory's Helios project, an initiative to develop methods of harnessing solar power as a source of renewable energy for transportation.[28]

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 method of cooling 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.[29]

While at Stanford, Chu's research interests expanded into biological physics and polymer physics at the single molecular level. In the field of biological physics, he studied enzyme activity and protein and RNA folding using techniques such as fluorescence resonance energy transfer, atomic force microscopy, and optical tweezers. Chu's research in polymer physics made use of individual molecules of DNA to study polymer dynamics and phase transitions associated with these dynamics. He further continued his research in atomic physics as well, developing new methods of laser cooling and trapping.[30]

Honors and awards[edit]

Steven Chu in 2014, portrait via the Royal Society.

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. He is a member of the United States 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 of the Korean Academy of Science and Engineering.[31] He was also awarded the Humboldt Prize by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1995.

Dr. Chu received an honorary doctorate from Boston University when he was the keynote speaker at the 2007 commencement exercises.[32] He is a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.[33] Diablo magazine, based east of Berkeley in Walnut Creek, California, honored Dr. Chu with one of its annual Eco Awards in its April 2009 issue,[34] shortly after he was nominated as energy secretary. Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate during their 2010 and 2009 commencement exercises, respectively.[35][36] He was awarded an honorary degree from Yale University during its 2010 commencement.[37] 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.[38] Penn State University awarded him an honorary doctorate during their 2012 commencement exercises.[39] In 2014, Chu was awarded an honorary doctorate from Williams College, during which he gave a talk moderated by Williams College Professor Protik Majumder.[40]

Chu was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2014. His nomination reads:

Secretary of Energy[edit]

Steven Chu meeting with President Barack Obama on February 5, 2009.

His nomination to be Secretary of Energy was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2009.[42] 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 US Cabinet after having won a Nobel Prize.[43] He is also the second Chinese American to be a member of the US Cabinet after Elaine Chao.[44]

His scientific work continued, however, including a paper on gravitational redshift published in Nature in February 2010[45] and a second one co-authored in July 2010.[46][47]

In March 2011 Chu said that federal regulators should not delay approving construction licenses for planned U.S. nuclear power plants because of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. "I think those things can proceed," Chu told reporters on Capitol Hill, referring to construction license applications pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[48]

In August 2011 Chu praised an advisory panel’s 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 greater data collection of air and water data, as well as “rigorous” air pollution standards and mandatory disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, among other steps. “The report ... recommends a range of tools for implementing these measures, including regulation, continuous improvement in best practices by industry, and ongoing research and development,” Chu said in a statement. “I will 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,” he added.[49]

On February 1, 2013, Chu announced his intent to resign.[50] In his resignation announcement to Energy Department employees, he warned of the risks of climate change from continued reliance on fossil fuels, and wrote, "As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions." [51] He resigned on April 22, 2013. He is currently working at Stanford with a team led by Dr Yi Cui on developing a high energy battery with a lithium metal anode and sulfur cathode.[52]

Energy and climate change[edit]

Steven Chu in 2014 at a speech he delivered on climate change and energy use

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.[14][15][16] 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.[53]

Chu warns that global warming could wipe out California farms within the century.[54]

He has joined the Copenhagen Climate Council,[55] an international collaboration between business and science, established to create momentum for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Chu was instrumental in submitting a winning bid for the Energy Biosciences Institute, a BP-funded $500 million multi-disciplinary collaborative project 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.[56][57][58][59]

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."[17]

Chu has also advocated making the roofs of buildings and the tops of roads around the world white or other light colors, which could possibly reflect a lot of sunlight back into space and significantly 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.[17] Samuel Thernstrom, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-director of the AEI Geoengineering Project, expressed support in The American and remarked "Chu has done the nation a service" since "the idea has an important role to play in the climate debate."[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steven Chu's file. PolitiFact. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "能源部长朱棣文宣布近期辞职". SinoVision. 
  4. ^ "美国能源部长朱棣文". Xinhua News Agency. 
  5. ^ "前能源部长朱棣文 返史丹福大学执教". Sina Corp. 
  6. ^ "美国能源部部长朱棣文访问北大并与师生座谈". Peking University. 
  7. ^ "雷射的應用–捕捉原子與中性粒子". National Science Council. 
  8. ^ O'Shea, Jennifer L. (December 30, 2008). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Steven Chu; Steven Chu is President-elect Obama's pick for energy secretary". U.S. News & World Report (Kerry F. Dyer). Retrieved December 17, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Tore Frängsmyr, ed. (1998). "Steven Chu Autobiography". The Nobel Prizes 1997. Les Prix Nobel. Stockholm: The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  10. ^ Ashkin, A.; Dziedzic, J. M.; Bjorkholm, J. E.; Chu, S. (1986). "Observation of a single-beam gradient force optical trap for dielectric particles". Optics Letters 11 (5): 288. doi:10.1364/OL.11.000288. 
  11. ^ Raab, E.; Prentiss, M.; Cable, A.; Chu, S.; Pritchard, D. (1987). "Trapping of Neutral Sodium Atoms with Radiation Pressure". Physical Review Letters 59 (23): 2631. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.59.2631. 
  12. ^ Chu, S.; Bjorkholm, J.; Ashkin, A.; Cable, A. (1986). "Experimental Observation of Optically Trapped Atoms". Physical Review Letters 57 (3): 314. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.57.314. 
  13. ^ "Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy". United States Department of Energy. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  14. ^ a b c H. Josef Hebert (2008-12-08). "Energy secretary pick argues for new fuel sources". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  15. ^ a b Sarah Jane Tribble, 'Nuclear: Dark horse energy alternative,' Oakland Tribune, 2007-06-18.
  16. ^ a b Directors of DOE National Laboratories (August 2008). "A Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy". Department of Energy. 
  17. ^ a b c "A scientist who is on tap, on top". St. Petersberg Times. July 26, 2009. Retrieved January 10, 2010. 
  18. ^ Dixon, Darius. "Energy Secretary Steven Chu to resign". Politico. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  19. ^ Dalton, R (2009). "Steven Chu prepares for power". Nature 457 (7227): 241. doi:10.1038/457241a. PMID 19148062. 
  20. ^ Service, R. F. (2007). "Steven Chu profile. Steering a national lab into the light". Science 315 (5813): 784. doi:10.1126/science.315.5813.784. PMID 17289971. 
  21. ^ a b c Bert Eljera (1997-10-23). "Stanford Professor Steven Chu graduates to the rank of Nobel laureate". AsianWeek. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  22. ^ Brendan John Worrell (2009-07-15). "Steven Chu: US ready to lead on climate change". ChinaDaily. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  23. ^ Kathleen Kerr (2008-07-16). "They Began Here". Newsday. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  24. ^ "Steven Chu, 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics". NSF-GRF. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  25. ^ "Morgan Chu". Irell & Manella LLP. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  26. ^ "About Bio-X". Stanford University. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  27. ^ "Steven Chu named director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory". Stanford News Service. 2004-06-21. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  28. ^ a b Robert Sanders (2008-12-15). "Obama chooses Nobelist Steven Chu as secretary of energy". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  29. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1997". Nobel Foundation. 1997-10-15. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  30. ^ "Steven Chu". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  31. ^ "MIT World Speakers: Steven Chu". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  32. ^ "Commencement 2007: Address and Honorees". Boston University. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  33. ^ Design Futures Council Senior Fellows.
  34. ^ Diablo Eco Awards Diablo Eco Awards. Diablo magazine April 2009
  35. ^ "Five to receive honorary degrees". Washington University. 
  36. ^ "Ten honorary degrees awarded at Commencement". Harvard University. 
  37. ^ Finnegan, Leah (2010-05-24). "Celebs Converge At Yale's Graduation Ceremony (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ "U.S. Secretary of Energy to speak at May 5 commencement ceremony". The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 2012-04-26. 
  40. ^ "Williams College Announces its 2014 Honorary Degree Recipients" (Press release). Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College. 2014-03-19. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  41. ^ "Professor Steven Chu ForMemRS". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2014-12-24. 
  42. ^ Nicholas Johnston (2009-01-20). "Senate Confirms Seven Obama Nominees, Delays Clinton". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  43. ^ Jake Tapper (2008-12-11). "A Nobel Prize Winner in the Cabinet". ABC News. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  44. ^ Sky Canaves (2009-02-26). "Commerce Nominee a Locke In China". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  45. ^ Müller, H.; Peters, A.; Chu, S. (2010). "A precision measurement of the gravitational redshift by the interference of matter waves". Nature 463 (7283): 926. doi:10.1038/nature08776.  According to Nature he worked on this "during nights, weekends and on planes – after putting in 70–80 hours a week as energy secretary"
  46. ^ Borestein, Seth (2010-07-07). "Energy secretary's hobby is nano science". MSNBC. Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  47. ^ Pertsinidis, A.; Zhang, Y.; Chu, S. (2010). "Subnanometre single-molecule localization, registration and distance measurements". Nature 466 (7306): 647. doi:10.1038/nature09163. 
  48. ^ "Japan crisis should not delay new U.S. reactors: Chu". Reuters. 2011-03-15. 
  49. ^ Geman, Ben (2011-08-18). "Chu vows to ‘chart a path’ for safe gas drilling". Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  50. ^ "Energy Secretary Steven Chu to resign". Politico. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  51. ^ "Letter from Secretary Steven Chu to Energy Department Employees". Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  52. ^ Economist September 13, 2014
  53. ^ Steven Chu: ‘Coal is My Worst Nightmare’, Wall St. Journal, December 11, 2008
  54. ^ Romm, Joe (2009-02-09). "Steven Chu’s full global warming interview: "This is a real economic disaster in the making for our children, for your children."". Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  55. ^ "Councillors: Steven Chu". Copenhagen Climate Council. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  56. ^ Dalton, R. (2007). "Berkeley's energy deal with BP sparks unease". Nature 445 (7129): 688. doi:10.1038/445688b. 
  57. ^ "Physicist Searches for Alternative Fuel Technologies". Public Broadcasting Service. 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  58. ^ Angel Gonzalez (2007-05-14). "BP Berkeley Venture Means Big Money, Big Controversy". City of Berkeley, Central Administrative Offices. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  59. ^ Goldie Blumenstylk (2007-09-28). "TV's Take on the Influence of Big Oil". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  60. ^ Thernstrom, Samuel (June 5, 2009). "White Makes Right? Steven Chu’s Helpful Idea". The American. Retrieved January 10, 2010. 

External links[edit]

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