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About Steve Chu, continued

On Chu’s initiative, Lab staffers from many divisions have joined with partners from other Department of Energy labs, universities, and industry to organize the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Energy Biosciences Institute. Chu has also been the driving force behind a multidisciplinary energy science center known as Helios, slated to begin construction on the Berkeley Lab site in 2010.

At the heart of each institute and proposal is the belief that  biological engineering of non-food plants, combined with  nanoscience, can create liquid fuels and electricity from sunlight.

Chu has also reinvigorated Berkeley Lab’s existing programs for energy-efficient buildings, more powerful batteries, and monitoring greenhouse gases. He has made Berkeley Lab a center for powerful new climate models based on fundamental carbon science. Meanwhile he has worked to insure Berkeley Lab’s continued preeminence in fields like cancer research, photon science, astrophysics, materials science, and high-performance computing.

Chu has spearheaded national and international studies in support of basic research, science education, and new sources of energy. He was co-chair of the InterAcademy Council’s report Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future; he served on the Augustine committee that produced Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future; and he is part of the National Academies’ ongoing study, America's Energy Future.  

Chu’s own research has resulted in numerous awards, including the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips, for developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. He did the work that led to the prize while at AT&T Bell Laboratories, from 1978-87; in 1987 he joined Stanford University as a professor in the Physics and Applied Physics Departments and was a highly decorated scientist, teacher, and administrator there until he accepted the directorship of Berkeley Lab.

Chu has published more than 220 scientific papers and is a fellow or member of the world’s leading scientific academies. He serves on numerous boards including the Hewlett Foundation, the University of Rochester, and the Executive Committee of the National Academies’ Board on Physics and Astronomy. He has been an advisor to the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the National Nuclear Security Agency.

His undergraduate degrees in physics and mathematics were from the University of Rochester and his Ph.D from UC Berkeley. He has been awarded ten honorary degrees and has held numerous visiting lectureships at universities including Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, and the Collège de France.

Chu was born in Saint Louis, Missouri on February 2, 1948. He is married to Jean Chu, who was trained as a physicist at Oxford University and was formerly Stanford’s Dean of Admissions and the university president’s chief of staff. He has two grown sons, Geoffrey and Michael. 

The 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics

Nobel medal image

Steven Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for "development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light." More >>

Steven Chu's Nobel autobiography
Chu's Nobel Lecture (.pdf)
Receiving the Nobel Prize

IMAGE: Steven Chu in the lab
Photo by Linda A. Cicero/ Stanford News Service

To Catch an Atom

If you ever get the feeling that life is a blur, maybe it’s because the atoms that make up the world around us are always moving at speeds faster than those of supersonic jet planes (about 4,000 kilometers per hour). By cooling an atom down to a temperature of nearly absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius), you can slow its movement to a crawl and then use light to trap and manipulate it. That’s what physicist Steven Chu, the new director of Berkeley Lab, did to win a share of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics.

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