Steve Chu says goodbye to the Department of Energy

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2013-02-05

Soon-to-be former Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Late last week, the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, announced he would not be serving out the second term of the Obama administration. The news had been expected for some time, but Chu waited until after several other prominent members of the administration announced they would not be back.

Chu brought a rare combination of scientific and administrative expertise to the cabinet. A Nobel Laureate in Physics, Chu may have been unique in that he published a research paper in the high-profile journal Nature while serving as Secretary of Energy. He ran the Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley Lab for several years before stepping up to head the department; he then found an unusual opportunity while he led—$26 billion of the recovery act was specifically dedicated to the DOE.

The DOE is a sprawling agency, responsible for everything from energy efficiency measures like house insulation to international nuclear proliferation (Chu's farewell notes that 10 percent of the US' electricity is now generated using uranium derived from Soviet warheads). The national labs it runs focus on basic and applied research, but the DOE also intervenes directly in the market, providing loan guarantees and funding to projects that are considered too risky to attract private financing.

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