Steven Chu: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Michael Blosser

Michael has a Masters in Physics and a Masters in International Development. He has over 5 years of teaching experience, teaching Physics, Math, and English classes.

This lesson discusses the physicist Steven Chu and explores his personal life, career, and time as the Energy Secretary in the United States. It also covers other topics about his scientific contributions and personal life.

Steven Chu

''I've always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but 'by the content of their character.' In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view.''

-Steven Chu-

Steven Chu
Steven Chu

Steven Chu is a famous physicist known mostly for his revolutionary work on atomic physics. As well, Steven Chu served as the United States Secretary of Energy for the Obama Administration. This lesson explores his personal life and career and discusses his scientific contributions that have made him a household name.

Childhood and Early Life

''Education in our family was not merely emphasized, it was our raison d'etre ... In this family of accomplished scholars, I was to become the academic black sheep. I performed adequately at high 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.''

-Steven Chu-

Steven Chu was born on February 28, 1948 in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Steven was born to his father Ju-Chin Chu, a chemical engineering professor, and to his mother Ching Chen Li. Both of Steven Chu's parents were of Chinese descent. Chu's parents held education in a very high regard and exerted incredible pressure on their children to succeed in school. Because of this, Chu's family moved to New York City in search of quality school, and it was there that he attended Garden City High School.

Chu showed an early ability in math and other natural sciences and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1970 with two bachelor degrees, one in mathematics and one in physics. Chu would then go on to attend the prestigious University of California- Berkeley and receive his doctorate in physics there in 1976. Steven has two brothers, Gilbert and Morgan Chu, and in 1997 he married a British citizen, Jean Fetter. As well, Steven Chu has two sons from his first marriage with Lisa Chu-Thielbar.


''Science is really about describing the way the universe works in one aspect or another in all branches of science-how a life-form works, how this works, how that works. ... You have to have a natural curiosity for that.''

-Steven Chu-

After two years of post-doctoral work at the University of California-Berkeley, Chu was offered a position at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey as a research scientist in the Quantum Electronics Research division. After around four years working in this division of Bell Laboratories, Chu was offered the position of Director of Quantum Electronics Research for Bell Laboratories in 1983. During Chu's time there, he and his fellow scientists developed revolutionary techniques for the cooling and trapping of atoms.

Chu and his coworkers were able to do this by using intersecting laser beams to create a sort of ''optical molasses'' that slowed the atoms down from speeds of 4000 km per hour to 1 km per hour. As the atoms slowed, they approached the temperature of absolute zero or -273.15 degrees celsius. These methods let Chu and his colleagues study the trapped and chilled atoms, providing benefits for numerous applications. Along with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips, Steven Chu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for his work on the cooling and trapping of atoms using lasers.

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