He will be the first Nobel laureate to serve in a presidential cabinet. By picking Steven Chu who shared the 1997 prize in physics for his work trapping atoms with lasers as his candidate for energy secretary, Barack Obama looks to turn the tide on a government bureaucracy that under the Bush Administration often minimized the importance of scientific expertise. While much of the Department of Energy's attention has previously focused on nuclear weapons and waste, Chu, a firm believer in the dangers of climate change, will try to fulfil Obama's promise to create millions of green collar jobs, develop alternative energy options and make the nation more energy independent. (See Obama's other Cabinet picks.)
Born in St. Louis on Feb. 28, 1948 to Chinese immigrants who came to America to get their degrees his father in chemical engineering and his mother in economics. Grew up on Long Island, New York.
His was one of only three Chinese families in his Long Island town. In the eighth grade, he taught himself tennis by reading an instructional book and taught himself how to pole vault "using bamboo poles obtained from the local carpet store."
Married to wife Jean Chu, physicist; two sons from a previous marriage.
Earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also taught as a professor. Was chair of the Stanford University physics department and head of a research facility at Bell Labs. Is currently director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is owned by the department he is about to lead.
Has been a strong advocate of biofuels and solar energy research.
Will be the first Energy secretary who is also a working scientist.
"His appointment should send a signal that my administration will value science ... We will make decisions based on facts."
Barack Obama, president-elect, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 2008
"People have lost confidence in what political figures are saying about energy ... They may pay more attention to the views of a scholar and Nobel winner."
Spencer Abraham, former Energy Secretary under George W. Bush, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 15, 2008
"It represents a 180-degree turnaround for the United States on the environment and energy policy."
Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, TIME.com, Dec. 16, 2008
"Education in our family was not merely emphasized, it was our raison d'etre ... In this family of accomplished scholars, I was to become the academic black sheep. I performed adequately at high school, but in comparison to my older brother, who set the record for the highest cumulative average for our high school, my performance was decidedly mediocre."
on his younger years, in his Nobel Prize autobiography, 1997
"If I were emperor, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation." on the importance of attending to the nation's future energy needs, Reuters, May 9, 2007
"In my opinion, if the world substantially increases the generation of greenhouse gases by relying heavily on fossil fuels, we run the risk of causing disruptive climate change."
on whether Congress should establish an advanced energy research agency, in testimony delivered to the House Committee on Science and Technology, March 9, 2006
"I told my boss...'Guess what? I just trapped an atom.' He said, 'Great. What are you going to do with it?' I said, 'I don't know, but it's great.'"
on the early work that led to his Nobel Prize, Associated Press, Dec. 11, 2008
"I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, and sacrifice, and endurance."
quoting fellow Nobel laureate William Faulkner following Obama's announcement of his nomination, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 2008