Huffpost Politics

Steven Chu, Energy Secretary? (VIDEO)

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Physicist Steven Chu will reportedly be named President-elect Barack Obama's Energy Secretary:

Democratic officials close to the transition team say that Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, appears to be increasingly on track to become energy secretary.

A Chinese-American, Chu is a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California-Berkeley and has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004, where he has pushed aggressively for research into alternative energy as a way to combat global warming.

It is the oldest of the Energy Department's national laboratories, but does only unclassified work and in recent years under Chu has been at the center of research into biofuels and solar technologies. Chu has been a strong advocate for the need to engage scientists in the search for ways to combat global warming by replacing fossil fuels with other energy sources such as biofuels and the sun.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, will be nominated as secretary of energy, Democratic officials said Wednesday...

Officials familiar with the selections say Mr. Chu is likely to focus his attention on the Energy Department's core missions: basic science, nuclear weapons and cleaning up a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex contaminated since the Cold War. Ms. Browner will coordinate renewable energy and energy efficiency policy from the White House, two areas that will feature prominently in a half-trillion-dollar economic-stimulus plan the new president hopes to sign into law as soon as he is inaugurated.

Mr. Chu bring sterling credentials as a scientist to a job that often has gone to former politicians. As an Asian-American, he also brings more ethnic diversity. He would inherit an agency that, despite its name, has little power to set energy policy, compared with agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates air quality, and the Transportation Department, which sets automobile fuel-efficiency standards.

MSNBC reports that Chu will be named Energy Secretary, but that it will not be announced this week.

At a National Clean Energy Summit this year, Chu explained why he shifted from quantum physics to global warming research:

Consider this. There's about a 50 percent chance, the climate experts tell us, that in this century we will go up in temperature by three degrees Centigrade. Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn't seem a lot to you, that's 11° F. Chicago changes by 30° F in half a day. But 5° C means that ... it's the difference between where we are today and where we were in the last ice age. What did that mean? Canada, the United States down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, was covered in ice year round.

Five degrees Centigrade.

So think about what 5° C will mean going the other way. A very different world. So if you'd want that for your kids and grandkids, we can continue what we're doing. Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We're not talking about ten thousand people. We're not talking about ten million people, we're talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.

From the 1997 Steven Chu Nobel prize autobiography:

My father, Ju Chin Chu, came to the United States in 1943 to continue his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in chemical engineering, and two years later, my mother, Ching Chen Li, joined him to study economics. A generation earlier, my mother's grandfather earned his advanced degrees in civil engineering at Cornell while his brother studied physics under Perrin at the Sorbonne before they returned to China. However, when my parents married in 1945, China was in turmoil and the possibility of returning grew increasingly remote, and they decided to begin their family in the United States. My brothers and I were born as part of a typical nomadic academic career: my older brother was born in 1946 while my father was finishing at MIT, I was born in St. Louis in 1948 while my father taught at Washington University, and my younger brother completed the family in Queens shortly after my father took a position as a professor at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

In 1950, we settled in Garden City, New York, a bedroom community within commuting distance of Brooklyn Polytechnic. There were only two other Chinese families in this town of 25,000, but to our parents, the determining factor was the quality of the public school system. Education in my family was not merely emphasized, it was our raison d'être. Virtually all of our aunts and uncles had Ph.D.'s in science or engineering, and it was taken for granted that the next generation of Chu's were to follow the family tradition. When the dust had settled, my two brothers and four cousins collected three MDs, four Ph.D.s and a law degree. I could manage only a single advanced degree.

Here's video of a Steven Chu lecture at Stanford. Or watch Chu earlier this year in a wide-ranging interview about the evolution of his research interests:

More info at Steven Chu's page from the U.S. Department of Energy Berkeley Lab page, and Steven Chu on Wikipedia.