Friday, June 19, 2009

"You know, Mr. Secretary, some people prefer golf."

In between arguing for climate change legislation and being profiled in Rolling Stone, Secretary of Energy and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu is somehow finding time for his first love: physics. This week's issue of Physical Review Letters includes a paper on atom interferometry authored by Chu and colleagues at UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (where Chu served as director), and Stanford. Atom interferometry uses matter-light interactions to make incredibly precise measurements, with applications in everything from airplane navigation systems to detecting the ripples in space-time predicted by general relativity.

Awesome hobby, Secretary Chu. I only hope the other Secretaries don't make fun of you for being a geek.


  1. Thanks for the link to Steven Chu's Nobel Prize autobiography. I think it is great that all the Noble Prize winners write a short autobiography, and we can read this easily on the Web and gain insight as to how they view their lives.

    I was especially tickled to learn that Dr. Chu gives such importance to the Feynman Lectures that were the basis of his U of R two year introductory physics course. Also, at this comment that his physics professor second year was not inspiring, in fact, he writes that he would have left physics if not for the Feynman Lectures.

    As one who was also inspired by the Feynman Lectures as presented in the cataclysmic late sixties at the frigid University of Rochester, but who did not survive that teacher, I gleefully point out that those Feynman lectures exerted pervasive, even transgenerational influence. I will also point out that Steven Chu, NOBLE PRIZE WINNER, points out in the same autobiographical essay that while the Feynman lectures were mesmerizing, the problem sets (and I think the problem sets at the U of R were much harder than Feynman's) were another thing altogether. (Yep, read the autobiography, he really says it).

    It is important to make note of this, as many VERY BRIGHT Physics students get intimidated by the problem sets, and those that can flash through them, an while I have always maintained that Noble Prize Material Physicists (the capitalization signifies that this a specific type)are not necessarily those who flash through problem sets, I am gratified to have Steven Chu confirm this in his essay.

    Lee Smollen, in his great book the "Trouble with Physics" (which I am sure our peerless blogger has read by now) makes just this point, even maintaining that Albert Einstein might not get tenure if he was around today. So maybe the same could be said for Steven Chu, and maybe this could be an INSPIRATION for us all...

    'Nuff said, to excess...