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Nobel Laureate Steven Chu (Hon.’07) Picked for Obama’s Team

Physicist to be energy secretary, lead global warming initiatives


Steven Chu (Hon.’07) was the University's 2007 Commencement speaker. Photo by Albert L'Etoile

Steven Chu, the 1997 Nobel laureate in physics and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been chosen by President-elect Barack Obama as his secretary of energy.

Chu (Hon.’07), who was Boston University’s Commencement speaker in 2007, has been a leader in the development of technologies to reverse climate change. In his speech at BU, he warned students that aggressive global warming will bring visible changes in the coming century.

“Scientists predict that in the next century the planet will warm between one and six degrees,” he said. “This means that Greenland will be green, the oceans will be seven meters higher, and the world will be a very different place.”

Reducing the effects of climate change, he said, will require scientific research into cost-effective means of trapping and sequestering carbon emissions, economic incentives for energy efficiency, and continued research into biomass, biological material that can be used for alternative fuel.

“Biomass offers the hope of creating an alternative to oil,” he said. “Corn is definitely not the solution, but in Brazil it costs less to run your car on sugar cane ethanol than on gasoline. I believe we can breed plants that will much more efficiently convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, precious water, and nutrients into biomass. Already, wild grasses grown on nonirrigated, nonfertilized land in Illinois have yielded enough biomass to produce 10 times the ethanol per acre of corn.”

Chu won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 for his work in cooling and trapping atoms by using laser light. Prior to his appointment at Berkeley, he was a professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford University. He earned a bachelor of arts in mathematics and a bachelor of science in physics, both from the University of Rochester, and a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley.


5 Comments on Nobel Laureate Steven Chu (Hon.’07) Picked for Obama’s Team

  • mom on 12.12.2008 at 8:31 am


    wow! great things can happen for our little known commencement speakers.

  • Anonymous on 12.12.2008 at 9:11 am

    little known commencement speaker rofl he’s a nobel laureate

  • Anonymous on 12.12.2008 at 12:18 pm

    That nobel prize thing is small beans compared to that energy secretary thing!

  • Anonymous on 12.14.2008 at 8:33 am

    Steven Chu

    was funny as the commencement speaker. He talked about being the black sheep in his family. That the siblings would would excel and he was not able to keep up until he one the Nobel, but his mother was not impressed. She wanted to know why he didn’t visit. I think he has one up on his brother now!

  • Prof. William J. Skocpol on 12.15.2008 at 6:25 pm

    Bell Labs, too

    It is worth noting that Steve did his Nobel-Prize-earning work at AT&T Bell Laboratories, before and just after the breakup of the Bell System (between grad school and becoming a Stanford Professor). I know because he was my department head there, and he had to interrupt his work to go make the case for the rest of us to get our raises. Unfortunately in this era of cutthroat technological competition, the research area at Bell Labs barely exists anymore.

    I also happened to place a phone call to his answering machine at Stanford on behalf of one of our BU students seeking a postdoc. The next morning his prize was announced and the world descended on him. Nevertheless he called back that afternoon and said that he had decided not to fill the advertised postdoc position because, with the Nobel distractions, he wouldn’t have time to properly supervise and work with another researcher.

    Steve Chu is an excellent choice to lead an organization.

    Prof. Skocpol, Boston University Physics Department

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