Obama pick for Department of Energy


I’ve submerged myself in technology since I was a toddler, taking apart my mother’s vacuum to see how it worked, to stringing “parts” all over the house.  I shocked myself hundreds of times before I was seven, when I first started working with a Tandy Color Computer.  So basically what I am saying is technology and it’s draw for energy keep me intrigued.   

This leads me to the current state of the U.S., with all it’s problems has the potential to make huge leaps forward both economically and technically.  Obama has made an interesting pick to head the Department of Energy (see http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081211-obama-pick-for-energy-dept-may-herald-much-needed-shakeup.html)

But the most intriguing choice by far is the decision to place Steven Chu in charge of the Department of Energy. Chu has a PhD in physics, and was a wide-ranging experimentalist, sharing a Nobel Prize for his work in trapping metal atoms in ultracold gas clouds, a technique with a variety of applications. Chu brings a wealth of experience to the position; he has spent time in academic positions at Berkeley and Stanford, and won his Nobel Prize for work performed while at Bell Labs at a time when it was an icon of industry-funded "blue sky" research.

Since 2004, he has headed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has undoubtedly given him a wealth of administrative experience. LBL hosts some work from the DOE’s joint genome initiative, which has given Chu some experience with biology; he can now speak comfortably about termite endosymbionts. During his tenure, he helped refocus the facility on renewable and sustainable energy, primarily directed toward biofuels and solar. In his talk at the World Science Festival last year, Chu said he felt that solar technology has hit a critical mass where the number and quality of the people working on it had risen rapidly in recent years. He was clearly hoping that biofuels would go the same direction, suggesting that we needed to start engineering plants to contain complete biosynthetic pathways that produced some of the hydrocarbons we need for fuel and industrial purposes.

Chu clearly lacks some of the political skills of the other appointees—he’s bluntly termed corn-based biofuels "a dumb way to do things"—but we’ve argued before that US energy policy needs a major shake up, and Chu’s role in directing this sort of focus at LBL may make him the right person to do so. Regardless of political experience, he’s incredibly personable and persuasive, and it’s impossible to be anything but impressed with his sheer intellectual capacity after seeing him speak. His choice, along with several of the other environmental staff, clearly indicates that the scientific focus of the Obama administration will clearly be in the energy arena.

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