Steven Chu, Energy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
“What the U.S. and China do over the next decade will determine the fate of the world.
— Steven Chu during a speech in Beijing’s Tsinghua University, 2009
What does a white roof, the Nobel Prize and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have in common? The answer is Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy. Earlier this year Chu, while on a visit to London, suggested that painting roofs white can make a huge impact on global warming. “It’s the equivalent of reducing carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years,” he said. His suggestion was met with some humor but he had scientific proof. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory in California proved through their research that white roofs and pavement could mean a one-time reduction of 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
Chu, a fervent advocate for alternative energy and nuclear power, knows what he was talking about. Chu was born in a family of brilliant academics, with he and his brothers deeply instilled with the value of education. According to Chu, “Education in my family was not merely emphasized, it was our raison d’être.” In an accomplished family with numerous PhDs and MDs to their credit, Chu became “the academic black sheep” with just a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.
Subsequently, Chu became a postdoctoral researcher at Bell Labs. But soon after, he joined Stanford University as a professor of physics, and later became chairman of the Physics Department. In 1997, Chu was the co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research. Seven years later, Chu was appointed as the director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, until 2009 when he took over as the Energy Secretary.
At 61, perhaps Chu’s greatest impact will be in the area of energy. Besides his exceptional abilities, he is known for his no-nonsense approach and candor, which are evident in his vocal demands that the U.S. should reduce its heavy dependence on fossil fuels and instead emphasize alternative fuels. Intent on combating the serious implications of climate change, Chu currently is promoting the expenditure of $39 billion on short-term stimulus projects, nearly 150% of the Department of Energy’s normal annual budget.
Recently some of his efforts have paid off. In August, the DOE chose 25 cost-sharing alternative fuel projects, funded through a $300 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allotment. Chu happily announced that these measures will, “put more than 9,000 alternative-fuel and energy-efficient vehicles on the road,” and estimated that the initiative will slash annual gasoline use in the U.S. by about 38 million gallons. The projects are also designed to reduce carbon pollution and create green jobs locally.
According to Chu, scientists are by nature optimists. And as a self-proclaimed optimist, Chu believes that science can solve many of the world’s energy challenges. Fellow Nobel Prize winner physicist Carl Wieman commented on Chu’s focused personality, observing that he is, “very, very intense and he’s very, very good at solving problems.” And that is precisely what the world needs right now.
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