UC Berkeley News


Nobel laureate named director of LBNL

22 July 2004


Steven Chu, LBNL’s director-designate
Roy Kaltschmidt photo

Steven Chu, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, was named director of the UC-managed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory by the UC Regents in June. He will take office August 1, replacing departing director Charles V. Shank who, after a sabbatical, will return to the Berkeley campus to continue teaching and research.

“Steve Chu brings to this position outstanding leadership qualities and a record of superior achievement in science,” said UC President Robert Dynes. “His combination of skills is precisely what we need to keep [LBNL] at the forefront of scientific excellence and to guide the lab wisely through the upcoming potential contract competition.”

Chu, 55, who earned his doctorate from UC Berkeley, is currently the Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University, where he has been on the faculty since 1987.

In 1997, Chu was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics (with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips) “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” Beginning in 1989, Chu expanded his research scope to include polymer physics and biophysics at the single-molecule level.

Chu chaired the physics department at Stanford from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1999 to 2001. More than 20 of his students and postdoctoral fellows have become professors at top research universities around the world.

With three other professors, Chu initiated Bio-X, a campuswide initiative that brings together researchers from the physical and biological sciences with those from engineering and medicine. He went on to help plan the Bio-X program and its central laboratory, the recently constructed James H. Clark Center. He also played a key role in establishing and funding the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, another independent laboratory at Stanford.

From 1978 to 1987, Chu worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. From 1983 to 1987 he was head of the quantum electronics research department within the Electronics Research Laboratory of AT&T Bell Labs. His director then was Charles Shank.

“The opportunity to lead Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at this time is an exciting prospect and a tremendous honor,” said Chu. “Ironically, I succeed my former boss at Bell Laboratories, Charles Shank. Carrying on in the tradition of Ernest Lawrence, Chuck had the vision to see great opportunities and the energy and managerial skills to realize those visions. I look forward to following in that proud tradition.”

At Bell Labs, Chu and Allen Mills performed the first laser spectroscopy of positronium, an atom consisting of an electron and its anti-particle. They went on to make the most precise test of the quantum description of any two-body atom. In 1985, Chu led the group that showed how to cool and trap atoms with light. This so-called “optical tweezers” trap is now widely used in biology.

Since joining Stanford in 1987, Chu and colleagues have constructed the first atomic fountain, which is becoming the time standard of the world. They developed a device that spatially separated and recombined atomic matter waves, and then used this device to measure the acceleration due to gravity with unprecedented accuracy.

Using the optical tweezers, Chu pioneered methods to simultaneously visualize and manipulate individual bio-molecules in 1990. His group used this technique to test the fundamental theories of polymer dynamics. His group is also applying methods such as ultra-sensitive fluorescence microscopy, optical tweezers, and the atomic force microscope to study biology at the single-molecule level.

Chu received his A.B. degree in mathematics and his B.S. degree in physics in 1970 from the University of Rochester, N.Y. He received his Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley as a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory employee in 1976; that same year he was a postdoctoral fellow here as well. Chu, who has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Collége de France, Oxford, and Cambridge universities, is currently the 2004 Hitchcock Lecturer at UC Berkeley. [Click here for information on viewing Chu’s Hitchcock Lectures online.]

Chu has won dozens of awards iapart from the Nobel Prize; additionally, he was a Humboldt Senior Scientist and a Guggenheim Fellow. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Academica Sinica. He is a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology.

Chu, who enjoys bicycling, swimming, and cooking in his spare time, is married to Jean Chu, an Oxford-trained physicist and former physics professor at San Jose State University. She served at Stanford University in a number of capacities, including dean of admissions and assistant to the president under both Richard Lyman and Gerhard Casper.

In nominating Chu for the directorship of the Berkeley Laboratory, Dynes was advised by a committee of regents, research scientists, and research administrators, which in turn was advised by an application screening committee consisting largely of the scientific leadership of the Berkeley Lab and of several UC campuses.

As director of LBNL, Chu will earn $350,000 annually and oversee an operation with a $521-million budget and a workforce of approximately 4,000. The director’s salary, like those of all other UC employees at the laboratory, is paid from funds derived from a federal Department of Energy contract.