Steven Chu, 'Green' Superhero

Listen to this: in 1997, a certain scientist wrote about his feeling of inadequacy in his first years of college. “In this family of accomplished scholars, I was to become the academic black sheep. I performed adequately at 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…I applied to a number of colleges in the fall of my senior year, but because of my relatively lackluster A-average in high school, I was rejected by the Ivy League schools, but was accepted at Rochester. By comparison, my older brother was attending Princeton, two cousins were in Harvard ... As I prepared to go to college, I consoled myself that I would be an anonymous student, out of the shadow of my illustrious family.”

Who is this “anonymous student” today?

Reuters photo:Larry DowningHe is Steven Chu, the current United States Secretary of Energy, who has taken on the huge problem of the energy crisis, and is the 15th in line to the presidency. Chu is also the first Asian American Secretary of Energy and the second Chinese American Cabinet member. In a recent Time article, Chu is called “America’s first Clean-Energy Secretary — a job that’s part green evangelism, part venture capitalism and part politics.”

And Chu wasn’t kidding about his “illustrious family.” His father, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained professor, his brother a Stanford University professor and his wife an Oxford University-trained physicist, Chu has been surrounded by scholars all of his life.

Yet the man once hoping to be out of their shadow has eclipsed them all. Chu’s resumé includes not only the laser cooling research that made him the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, but he was also a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a director at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where he developed Helios, a project that aims to “develop methods to store solar energy in the form of renewable transportation fuel.”

As the Secretary of Energy, Chu supports decreased dependence on fossil fuels and more alternative energy research. Most recently, he has announced funding for clean energy on tribal lands.

Now with our huge global warming concern, Chu is in the spotlight, as the man who has the most influence in making countries, such as China, aware of the crucial need to cut back on harmful emissions. Chu states, “What the U.S. and China do over the next decade…will determine the fate of the world.”

Since global warming was ranked last in a national survey of 20 top priorities, Chu has a lot of work to do in making our citizens and politicians aware of the need to implement aggressive "green" initiatives. But Time magazine shows hope in Chu, stating, “But now there's a new energy crisis, and the appointment of a global-warming Paul Revere who's also a green-tech Albert Einstein has signaled Obama's desire to put the E back in DOE, to have a first-tier brain reinvent a second-tier agency, to keep his Inaugural Address pledge to "restore science to its rightful place."

Photo of President Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, courtesy of Reuters/Larry Downing