Nobel Laureate for Energy Secretary

A small portrait of the translator

December 19, 2008 @ 6:41 UTC

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Barack Obama

In a move that I find personally exciting as a scientist, Obama has decided to nominate, not a career politician, but a career scientist for the post of Secretary of Energy, one could happily say an “elite” scientist.  Dr. Stephen Chu is a trained biochemist and physicist who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997. He’s currently the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a lead center in alternative energies and energy efficiencies.

If Obama wants to get serious about getting us off foreign oil and eventually off fossil fuels altogether, he could hardly have picked a better candidate.

Dr. Chu left his home at Stanford to direct Lawrence precisely because he was very interested in alternative sources of energy and energy efficiency. He has expertise in his own right on these subjects. He also serves to send the message that the Obama administration wants to take science seriously again.

Dr. Chu will have one major challenge in his position. Though Lawrence is not a small or modest center and I’m sure he is not a total stranger to a limited amount of politics, he is still very much a Washington outsider. He is unfamiliar with Washington power circles and will probably need some very serious and wonkish advisers to guide him through the complex world of Washington politics. However I suspect it takes less time to learn the ropes of those power circles than it takes to learn as much about the relevant scientific concepts and technologies that Dr. Chu is specialized in. He is in a unique position to have the trust of the scientific community, which is notoriously insular and unlikely to trust the knowledge of a non-specialist.

Though as dedicated to the concept of alternative energies as Al Gore is, he differs from the latter in one important respect. Al Gore believes we already have all the technology we need to make the jump to alternative sources of energy and all that’s missing is political will. Dr. Chu agrees that political will is essential (and his position will allow him considerable leverage in that regard) but he believes that a major push in the relevant technologies involved is still necessary if alternative energies are to become profitable and therefore viable.

Below you can see him discussing alternative energies and the less mentioned but extremely important energy efficiencies, as well as the economics involved. 

Click here to view the embedded video.

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