Barack Obama Picks Berkeley Lab Director Steve Chu for Energy Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has nominated Steve Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), to be Secretary of Energy.

Steve Chu, Lawrence Berkeley Nat'l. Lab — Roy Kaltschmidt, Photographer

Chu, 60, is a Nobel laureate physicist and a Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. He 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.

In speeches to organizations around the globe, Chu has delivered a consistent message. “Stronger storms, shrinking glaciers and winter snowpack, prolonged droughts and rising sea levels are raising the specter of global food and water shortages. The ominous signs of climate change we see today are a warning of dire economic and social consequences for us all, but especially for the poor of the world,” Chu has said. “The path to finding solutions is to bring together the finest, most passionate minds to work on the problem in a coordinated effort, and to give these researchers the resources commensurate with the challenge.”

Since assuming the directorship of Berkeley Lab in August, 2004, Chu has put his words into action by focusing the Laboratory’s considerable scientific resources on energy security and global climate change, in particular the production of new fuels and electricity from sunlight through non-food plant materials and artificial photosynthesis. At the same time he has reinforced the Lab’s historic leadership in energy-efficient technologies and climate science.

“Steve Chu came to our lab with a vision for how our community could have an impact on the greatest scientific and technological challenges of our times,” said Deputy Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos. “Berkeley Lab has been transformed under his leadership so that we now have programs that bring together scientists from diverse disciplines to work on biofuels, soft X-ray science, solar energy, carbon management and battery technologies, just to mention a few.”

Said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who has known Chu for three decades since the two men worked at Bell Laboratories in the 1970s, “Steve Chu has been relentless about addressing the technical challenges of renewable energy in a deep way. We will now have an energy policy that can mean the U.S. will have a chance of obtaining energy self-sufficiency through new technology.”

Chu was instrumental in bringing to the Bay Area the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a $135 million DOE-funded bioenergy research center operated by a multi-institutional partnership under the leadership of Berkeley Lab. He also played a major role in the creation of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which is funded by a $500 million grant from BP.

“Steve Chu has been an incredible visionary and true leader, particularly in the area of energy,” said Jay Keasling, who heads JBEI. “Now the country and the world will benefit from that vision and leadership."

Said Chris Somerville, who heads the EBI, “Fellow scientists see Steve Chu as a persuasive visionary able to bridge science with the private sector and government.”

Chu is internationally recognized as a proponent of increased government investment in advanced energy research, and he has been a leader in national and international studies including the influential InterAcademy Council report Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future, the National Academy’s Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, and the National Academies’ ongoing study, America's Energy Future.

UC President Mark Yudof called Chu’s nomination to lead the Energy Department an inspired choice.

“Steve is a proven leader with a passion for education and science and a talent for identifying new solutions to pressing problems,” Yudof said. “While he will be greatly missed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Steve will bring to Washington a distinguished record of scientific achievement and a deep understanding of the energy, environmental and national security issues at the heart of the Department of Energy’s portfolio.”

In addition to 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, Chu’s numerous awards include the American Physical Society’s Arthur Schawlow Prize for Laser Science, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Senior Scientist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the Academica Sinica, the American Philosophical Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology.

Chu earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester in 1970, a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1976, and was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley from 1976 to 1978, when he joined ATT’s Bell Labs. He moved to Stanford University in 1987, where he was a professor of physics and applied physics, and where he received high academic honors and held a number of administrative posts before joining Berkeley Lab in 2004.

Chu was born in Saint Louis, Missouri on February 28, 1948. He is married to Jean Chu, an Oxford-trained physicist, and has two grown sons, Geoffrey and Michael, by a previous marriage.

Chu is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ committee on Alternative Models of Federal Funding of Science, and is on the Steering Committee of the Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability Initiative of the nongovernmental Council on Competitiveness. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Rochester, the Board of Directors of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Board of Directors of NVIDIA Corporation, the Governing Board of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, and the Scientific Board of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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. Visit our website at

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