Prof. Steven Chu

United States

The worldwide renaissance in atomic physics and quantum optics in recent decades can be largely attributed to the groundbreaking research of Prof. Steven Chu. His enormous contributions to the advancement and application of laser manipulation of atomic motion were recognized by the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to him jointly with Profs. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips, for developing laser-based methods to cool and trap atoms.

Born in 1948 in St. Louis, Missouri, Steven Chu undertook his undergraduate studies in mathematics and physics at the University of Rochester and his PhD studies in physics at the University of California, Berkeley. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Berkeley, he joined AT&T Bell Laboratories, and in 1987, became professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford University. In 2004, Prof. Chu was appointed Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and, from 2009 to 2013, served as the United States Secretary of Energy. Today, he is a professor of physics in the School of Humanities and Sciences, professor of molecular and cellular physiology in the School of Medicine, and energy science and engineering in the School of Sustainability at Stanford.

Prof. Chu pioneered the field of laser manipulation of atomic motion, culminating in the cooling of atoms to quantum degeneracy – today, one of the most dynamic and productive fields in atomic physics. His methods have revolutionized scientists’ ability to perform precision measurements and control atomic systems, thus advancing the fundamental understanding of quantum physics, the properties of matter, light-atom interactions, and new physics. Furthermore, his work has also advanced important applications in a wide range of fields, including ultra-precise measurements of gravity (in geology and mineral exploration), navigation, atomic clocks, biomedical imaging, electrochemistry, and many more. Prof. Chu has made seminal contributions to atomic physics, polymer physics, biophysics, molecular biology, medical imaging, nanoparticle synthesis, batteries, and other applications in electrochemistry.

A vocal advocate for research on renewable and sustainable energy, Prof. Chu served as Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and eight foreign Academies, and has served as teacher and mentor to generations of young scientists, themselves now prominent in their respective fields.