Carbon sequestration

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
May 18 & June 22, 2021
Video conference

Interview with Steven Chu, former United States Secretary of Energy and current Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology in the Medical School at Stanford University. Chu begins by taking us through his changing research interests across his time at Berkeley, Bell Labs and Stanford, and then recounts the beginnings of his interest in climate change in the early 2000s. He talks about his work advising companies who are working on climate change solutions such as carbon capture, and he gives an overview of the research and action being taken around renewable energy sources. Chu then goes back in time and recounts the story of his family, starting with his grandfather in China who emphasized education for all his children. Growing up in Nassau County, Chu describes feeling like a “disappointment” in his family because he didn’t go to an Ivy League school and instead completed his undergraduate studies in math and physics at the University of Rochester. Chu discusses his decision to attend Berkeley for grad school and meeting his advisor Eugene Commins, who was working on weak interactions. Then Chu recounts his transition to Bell Labs and describes the laser work going on there at the time, as well as his burgeoning interest in beta decay experiments. He talks about his research surrounding laser cooling and explains his decision to move to Stanford after Bell. Chu remembers his experience winning the Nobel Prize and accepting the position as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Chu ends the interview with stories from his time as Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration, such as his experiences with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, setting up the DOE Loan Program Office, and his international work on climate change.