Last updated on: 1/3/2018 | Author:

Steven Chu, PhD Biography

William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and former Secretary of Energy
Not Clearly Pro or Con to the question "Can Alternative Energy Effectively Replace Fossil Fuels?"

“What, then, should be our best investments for our nation’s energy future? Fusion research must continue, but commercially viable fusion is not a certainty. Fission energy has significant issues: long-term waste storage and the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons materials. Despite these issues, it needs a second look, especially if radioactive waste can be greatly reduced by recycling and burning down long-lived radioactive products into shorter-lived waste.

Beyond nuclear energy, our most likely option is solar energy, such as solar cells and wind. Modern wind generation is becoming economically competitive, but it cannot supply the majority of our energy needs. Photovoltaic generation needs improvement in cost and/or efficiency before large-scale deployment can occur. If generation of electricity via wind or photovoltaics is to become a major component of our energy portfolio, it will be essential to develop efficient methods to convert electricity into stored energy that we can use on demand.

There is another approach. For billions of years, photosynthesis has turned the sun’s energy into chemical energy. Learning to mimic biological systems may provide an eventual solution, while advances in molecular biology may offer a shorter-term answer. We should develop rapidly growing, self- fertilizing plants that convert carbon dioxide, sunlight, water and modest amounts of nutrients into biomass, such as cellulose, and more efficient means to convert the bio-mass and bio-waste into usable forms of energy. Nature has found ways to convert cellulose within the stomach of a termite and at the bottom of a swamp. A promising avenue of research is to improve these microorganism communities or develop biology-inspired enzymes that can replace existing, less efficient processes.”

“Worldwide Energy Crunch: Power the the People – and How to Keep It Coming,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2005

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities and Sciences, Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, School of Medicine, Stanford University, 2013-present
  • Secretary, United States Department of Energy (DOE), Jan. 21, 2009-Apr. 22, 2013
  • Professor, Physics and Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of California at Berkeley, 2004-2009
  • Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2004-2009
  • Professor, Physics, Stanford University, 1987-2004
  • Co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, 1997
  • Researcher, AT&T Bell Laboratories, 1978-1987
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California at Berkeley, 1976-1978
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences,
  • Member, American Philosophical Society,
  • Member, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Academica Sinica, and the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ committee on Alternative Models of Federal Funding of Science
  • Member, Steering Committee of the Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability Initiative, Council on Competitiveness
  • Member, Board of Trustees, University of Rochester
  • Member, Board of Directors, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • Member, Board of Directors, NVIDIA Corporation
  • Member, Governing Board, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
  • Member, Scientific Board, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • PhD, Physics, University of California at Berkeley, 1976
  • BS, Mathematics and Physics, University of Rochester, 1970
  • Born in Saint Louis, MO, 1948