Lists of Nobel Prizes and Laureates


Steven Chu

Panellist, Nobel Week Dialogue 2013

Former United States Secretary of Energy and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1997, Steven Chu has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to our energy and climate challenges.

Professor Steven Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr, Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University, California, United States. Chu is the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1997 and has received numerous other awards. He has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to our energy and climate challenges, a mission which culminated in his appointment as Secretary of Energy for President Obama's government in 2009, a position he held until April 2013.

As the longest serving Energy Secretary, he began several initiatives, including the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) and Clean Energy Ministerial global forum. During his time at the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the deployment of renewable energy in the United States doubled. As the first scientist to head the DOE, Chu helped identify and recruit a dozen outstanding scientists and engineers; he worked to create a "Bell Labs" culture in ARPA-E, which is now being disseminated to other parts of the DOE, such as the solar photovoltaic SunShot Initiative.

From 2004–2009, Chu was the Director of the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he led the lab in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies. In parallel to this, he was Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to those positions, he was the Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University (1987–2004). During his time at Stanford, he twice chaired the Department of Physics and helped start Bio-X, a multi-disciplinary initiative that brings together the physical and biological sciences with engineering and medicine. From 1978–1987, Chu worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, including four years as Head of the Quantum Electronics Research Department.

While at Bell Labs, Chu led the group that showed how to first cool and then trap atoms with light. The "optical tweezers" trap, first demonstrated during the course of the atom trapping work, is widely used in biology. Other contributions include the demonstration of the magneto-optic trap, the most widely used atom trap today. At Stanford, he developed the theory of laser cooling of actual, multilevel atoms (also developed independently by Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Jean Dalibard), and demonstrated the first atomic fountain/fountain atomic clock. For this work, he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1997. Chu's research group also introduced atom interferometry based on optical pulses of light, a technique that has remained the most precise form of atom interferometry after two decades. Chu and his group were the first to use FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer) to study individual molecules tethered to a glass surface.

During the past ten years, Chu has also become active in marshalling scientists and resources to address the energy problem with new pathways to sustainable, CO2-neutral energy. His research continues to include biophysics, biomedicine, energy and energy economics.

Quote from Professor Chu:

The challenge of providing for a secure, sustainable, and socially responsible energy future is among the most pressing issues facing humanity. Meeting this challenge will require innovations in science and technology, policy, and business models from the global community.

By bringing together a wealth of world-leading participants from across the science and society landscape, the upcoming Nobel Week Dialogue on Exploring the Future of Energy provides the perfect forum for taking stock of the current situation and looking ahead towards possible future scenarios.


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