By Jennifer Nordin, Staff Writer

Barak Obama has nominated Chinese American physicist Steven Chu to be the Secretary of the Department of Energy. 

While Chu will be the first Chinese American Energy Secretary, he will not be the first Chinese American Cabinet member.  That distinction goes to Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor for the past 8 years under George W. Bush.


By Jennifer Nordin, Staff Writer

Barak Obama has nominated Chinese American physicist Steven Chu to be the Secretary of the Department of Energy. 

While Chu will be the first Chinese American Energy Secretary, he will not be the first Chinese American Cabinet member.  That distinction goes to Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor for the past 8 years under George W. Bush.

Chu’s educational background is in physics.  His career has included working as a researcher at Bell Laboratories, then a professor at Stanford University.  

Chu won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 which he shared with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips for developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. 

In 2004, he became the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).  Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Chu is a Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

An article on Chu’s appointment as Energy Secretary on the Berkeley Lab Web site (http://www.lbl.gov) stated, “Chu is also one of the nation’s foremost and outspoken advocates for scientific solutions to the twin problems of global warming and the need for carbon-neutral renewable sources of energy. He has called these problems ‘the greatest challenge facing science’ and has rallied many of the world’s top scientists to address it.”

The article also included reaction to the selection of Chu by prominent politicians, educators and scientists, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said, “Steven Chu is an extremely accomplished scientist and strong choice to lead America into a more energy-independent future.  He has shown that he can work beyond the confines of a national lab to tackle real-world issues, and his expertise will greatly benefit our country.”

Current U.S. Energy Secretary, Samuel L. Bodman, has said of Chu, “As the Director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Chu understands the significance of our energy and environmental challenges, and more importantly, understands the technical solutions necessary to address them.  He is also aware of the vital role that DOE plays in matters of energy and national security and appreciates the necessity of the Department’s voice on these matters.”

University of California President (and former University of Minnesota President), Mark Yudof said, “Steven Chu is an inspired choice to lead the U.S. Department of Energy. He is a proven leader with a passion for education and science and a talent for identifying new solutions to pressing problems.”

This is high praise for a man who described himself in his Nobel Prize autobiography as “the academic black sheep” of his family.

Chu was born in St. Louis, MO and grew up in Garden City, NY in a family of scholars.  His maternal grandfather earned advanced degrees in civil engineering at Cornell and his great-grandfather’s brother studied physics at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.  Chu’s father and mother both studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); his father studied chemical engineering and his mother studied economics.  Most of Chu’s aunts and uncles also had PhDs in science and engineering.

Because of this background, it was assumed that the next generation (Chu, his brothers and cousins) would also earn advanced degrees.  Chu wrote, “When the dust had settled, my two brothers and four cousins collected three MDs, four PhDs and a law degree. I could manage only a single advanced degree.”

Coming from an family of such accomplished scholars, Chu has a modest, perhaps distorted, view of his own accomplishments.  He describes his A-average in high school as “relatively lackluster”; not good enough to get him into an Ivy League school like his older brother and cousins.  Chu attended Rochester University in New York.

Educational pursuits were not the only focus of Chu’s childhood.  He also enjoyed “constructing devices of unknown purpose” with his erector set and playing sports with neighborhood kids.  He taught himself to play tennis by reading a book in eighth grade and taught himself to pole vault using bamboo poles from a local carpet store.

Chu has said that he and his two brothers never learned to speak Chinese because his parents only spoke to him in English. He has attempted to study Mandarin as an adult.

Chu, 60, is married to Jean Chu, an Oxford-trained physicist and former Dean of Admissions and the President's Chief of Staff at Stanford University. He has two sons, Geoffrey and Michael from a previous marriage.

If Chu’s appointment as Energy Secretary is confirmed, he will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the post.

Chu’s autobiography from Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1997, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1998
 
“Obama Picks Berkeley Lab Director Steve Chu for Energy Secretary” http://www.lbl.gov/Publications/Director/

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