Obama makes pick for energy chief

@newtondak (3950)
United States
December 10, 2008 7:28pm CST
President-elect Barack Obama is likely to name Steven Chu, a physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - 1997 Nobel Prize Winner: http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/12/10/obama.energy/index.html The article states that some Democrats are concerned that Chu has no political experience. Do you think that type of experience is necessary in this type of position or can he make it with his intellectual abilities?
1 person likes this
3 responses
@nanajanet (4436)
• United States
11 Dec 08
I do not feel that this is a political position but one that requires more experience that he already possesses, so I think it is an excellent choice. A lot of my republican friends are surprised with his choices but mostly happy. I guess that they felt that he would be too far to the left and he is not.
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@eaforeman6 (8983)
• United States
11 Dec 08
well, heres his story and I dont have an answer for your qusetion yet. .... My father, Ju Chin Chu, came to the United States in 1943 to continue his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in chemical engineering, and two years later, my mother, Ching Chen Li, joined him to study economics. A generation earlier, my mother's grandfather earned his advanced degrees in civil engineering at Cornell while his brother studied physics under Perrin at the Sorbonne before they returned to China. However, when my parents married in 1945, China was in turmoil and the possibility of returning grew increasingly remote, and they decided to begin their family in the United States. My brothers and I were born as part of a typical nomadic academic career: my older brother was born in 1946 while my father was finishing at MIT, I was born in St. Louis in 1948 while my father taught at Washington University, and my younger brother completed the family in Queens shortly after my father took a position as a professor at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. In 1950, we settled in Garden City, New York, a bedroom community within commuting distance of Brooklyn Polytechnic. There were only two other Chinese families in this town of 25,000, but to our parents, the determining factor was the quality of the public school system. Education in my family was not merely emphasized, it was our raison d'ĂȘtre. Virtually all of our aunts and uncles had Ph.D.'s in science or engineering, and it was taken for granted that the next generation of Chu's were to follow the family tradition. When the dust had settled, my two brothers and four cousins collected three MDs, four Ph.D.s and a law degree. I could manage only a single advanced degree. 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 studied, but not in a particularly efficient manner. Occasionally, I would focus on a particular school project and become obsessed with, what seemed to my mother, to be trivial details instead of apportioning the time I spent on school work in a more efficient way. I approached the bulk of my schoolwork as a chore rather than an intellectual adventure. The tedium was relieved by a few courses that seem to be qualitatively different. Geometry was the first exciting course I remember. Instead of memorizing facts, we were asked to think in clear, logical steps. Beginning from a few intuitive postulates, far reaching consequences could be derived, and I took immediately to the sport of proving theorems. I also fondly remember several of my English courses where the assigned reading often led to binges where I read many books by the same author. Despite the importance of education in our family, my life was not completely centered around school work or recreational reading. In the summer after kindergarten, a friend introduced me to the joys of building plastic model airplanes and warships. By the fourth grade, I graduated to an erector set and spent many happy hours constructing devices of unknown purpose where the main design criterion was to maximize the number of moving parts and overall size. The living room rug was frequently littered with hundreds of metal "girders" and tiny nuts and bolts surrounding half-finished structures. An understanding mother allowed me to keep the projects going for days on end. As I grew older, my interests expanded to playing with chemistry: a friend and I experimented with homemade rockets, in part funded by money my parents gave me for lunch at school. One summer, we turned our hobby into a business as we tested our neighbors' soil for acidity and missing nutrients. I also developed an interest in sports, and played in informal games at a nearby school yard where the neighborhood children met to play touch football, baseball, basketball and occasionally, ice hockey. In the eighth grade, I taught myself tennis by reading a book, and in the following year, I joined the school team as a "second string" substitute, a position I held for the next three years. I also taught myself how to pole vault using bamboo poles obtained from the local carpet store. I was soon able to clear 8 feet, but was not good enough to make the track team. In my senior year, I took advanced placement physics and calculus. These two courses were taught with the same spirit as my earlier geometry course. Instead of a long list of formulas to memorize, we were presented with a few basic ideas or a set of very natural assumptions. I was also blessed by two talented and dedicated teachers. My physics teacher, Thomas Miner was particularly gifted. To this day, I remember how he introduced the subject of physics. He told us we were going to learn how to deal with very simple questions such as how a body falls due to the acceleration of gravity. Through a combination of conjecture and observations, ideas could be cast into a theory that can be tested by experiments. The small set of questions that physics could address might seem trivial compared to humanistic concerns. Despite the modest goals of physics, knowledge gained in this way would become collected wisdom through the ultimate arbitrator - experiment. In addition to an incredibly clear and precise introduction to the subject, Mr. Miner also encouraged ambitious laboratory projects. For the better part of my last semester at Garden City High, I constructed a physical pendulum and used it to make a "precision" measurement of gravity. The years of experience building things taught me skills that were directly applicable to the construction of the pendulum. Ironically, twenty five years later, I was to develop a refined version of this measurement using laser cooled atoms in an atomic fountain interferometer. 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 and a third was at Bryn Mawr. My younger brother seemed to have escaped the family pressure to excel in school by going to college without earning a high school diploma and by avoiding a career in science. (He nevertheless got a Ph.D. at the age of 21 followed by a law degree from Harvard and is now a managing partner of a major law firm.) 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. The Rochester and Berkeley Years At Rochester, I came with the same emotions as many of the entering freshman: everything was new, exciting and a bit overwhelming, but at least nobody had heard of my brothers and cousins. I enrolled in a two-year, introductory physics sequence that used The Feynman Lectures in Physics as the textbook. The Lectures were mesmerizing and inspirational. Feynman made physics seem so beautiful and his love of the subject is shown through each page. Learning to do the problem sets was another matter, and it was only years later that I began to appreciate what a magician he was at getting answers. In my sophomore year, I became increasingly interested in mathematics and declared a major in both mathematics and physics. My math professors were particularly good, especially relative to the physics instructor I had that year. If it were not for the Feynman Lectures, I would have almost assuredly left physics. The pull towards mathematics was partly social: as a lowly undergraduate student, several math professors adopted me and I was invited to several faculty parties. The obvious compromise between mathematics and physics was to become a theoretical physicist. My heroes were Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, up to the contemporary giants such as Feynman, Gell-Mann, Yang and Lee. My courses did not stress the importance of the experimental contributions, and I was led to believe that the "smartest" students became theorists while the remainder were relegated to experimental grunts. Sadly, I had forgotten Mr. Miner's first important lesson in physics. Hoping to become a theoretical physicist, I applied to Berkeley, Stanford, Stony Brook (Yang was there!) and Princeton. I chose to go to Berkeley and entered in the fall of 1970. At that time, the number of available jobs in physics was shrinking and prospects were especially difficult for budding young theorists. I recall the faculty admonishing us about the perils of theoretical physics: unless we were going to be as good as Feynman, we would be better off in experimental physics. To the best of my knowledge, this warning had no effect on either me or my fellow students. After I passed the qualifying exam, I was recruited by Eugene Commins. I admired his breadth of knowledge and his teaching ability but did not yet learn of his uncanny ability to bring out the best in all of his students. He was ending a series of beta decay experiments and was casting around for a new direction of research. He was getting interested in astrophysics at the time and asked me to think about proto-star formation of a closely coupled binary pair. I had spent the summer between Rochester and Berkeley at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory trying to determine the deceleration of the universe with high red-shift radio source galaxies and was drawn to astrophysics. However, in the next two months, I avoided working on the theoretical problem he gave me and instead played in the lab. One of my "play-experiments" was motivated by my interest in classical music. I noticed that one could hear out-of-tune notes played in a very fast run by a violinist. A simple estimate suggested that the frequency accuracy, times the duration of the
• United States
11 Dec 08
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1997/chu-autobio.html
@newtondak (3950)
• United States
11 Dec 08
There is always quite a bit of "factual" information available on the internet regarding anyone in the public eye. I, however, am seeking opinions as to whether someone taking the position of energy chief in our government needs to have previous political experience.
1 person likes this
• United States
11 Dec 08
IT L ooks like he should be able to handle it without political experince providing he could consult and work with people who do have it. Thats my belief on it at this point.
• United States
11 Dec 08
I guess it depends on what the role of the Sec of Energy actually is. The other two possibilities that were mentioned in that article are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Colin Powell - I'd actually wonder more if either of them were Obama's pick. The "Democrat official" quoted said that the energy chief will need "gravitas and force of personality" to "make it happen", meaning Obama's plans for the green energy initiatives. It kinda sounds like they think we need someone in that position who can bully the legislature into going along against the oil lobbyists. I think it's more than intellectual abilities in this case - I think that knowledge and experience in the field of energy should be a key factor in choosing the secretary of energy. Who else can better point out the flaws and glaring misrepresentations in things that the oil company lobbyists use to try to convince politicians of their side of things than someone who knows energy inside out?