Steven Chu Discusses U.S. Energy Challenges

U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate, Steven Chu, entered an auditorium at Northwest Labs to a flurry of applause yesterday afternoon. Chu spoke at this year’s Konrad Bloch Lecture, delivering a talk titled “The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation in Solving the Energy Challenge.”

Chu was introduced to the crowd by Harvard professor Howard C. Berg. Berg described Chu as having an energetic personality.

“It seems appropriate, then, that he is the twelfth U.S. Secretary of the Department of Energy,” said Berg, eliciting laughter from the audience.

The Bloch Lecture, which has been held annually by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology since 1986, is sponsored by Pfizer and honors former Harvard professor and Nobel laureate Konrad Bloch.

Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for his work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light, began his lecture by highlighting the role that scientific advancements have played throughout history.

Projecting a photograph of an early basic integrated circuit onto the screen, Chu traced the origins of gadgets such as iPods and touchscreens to day-old inventions.

Chu emphasized the simple yet transformative power of science in technology and transportation, citing the creation of fertilizer and airplanes. He then turned his focus towards innovations in energy.

“America has the opportunity to lead the world in clean energy technologies,” said Chu.

Chu predicted that the price of solar energy will decrease in the coming years. More importantly, he mentioned that if the price of solar energy experiences a fourfold decrease, then it could compete with any form of energy, including natural gas. Most current models project a twofold decrease. Though hopeful of the development of green technologies, Chu stressed the importance of lowering energy expenditure.

According to Chu, government subsidies are more necessary when green technologies are just emerging.

“The closer you get to the foundation of research, the less companies are willing to invest because they’re not going to capture all of their investments,” said Chu.

“I was more encouraged [about U.S. energy policies] after hearing Secretary Chu speak,” said Melanie V. Sinche, Director at the FAS Office of Post-Doctoral Affairs. “He’s clearly in touch with key players in the economy for energy.”

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