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Description of the Collection
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: Steven Chu papers
Identifier/Call Number: SC0828
26.5 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1949-2013
Date (bulk): bulk
Abstract: Papers pertain primarily to topics in
physics and include notes, overhead transparencies from his lectures, reprints, articles,
memos, proposals, correspondence, charts, and drawings. Subjects include electric dipole
moment, diode lasers, and dye lasers; and there are some materials pertaining to
departmental matters. Also included in the collection is the 1989 paper by P. Galison, B.
Hevly, and R. Lowen, "Controlling the Monster - Stanford and the Growth of Physics Research,
Information about Access
This collection is open for research.
Ownership & Copyright
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be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford
University Libraries, Stanford, California 94304-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special
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Steven Chu Papers (SC0828). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford
University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.
Steven Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and
Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. From January 2009 until April, 2013, Dr. Chu
served as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama. During his tenure,
the Department of Energy annual budget was approximately $26 Billion and was entrusted an
additional $36 B through the Recovery Act.
As the longest serving Energy Secretary, he began several initiatives including ARPA-E
(Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), the Energy Innovation Hubs, and the Clean
Energy Ministerial meetings. During his time at the DOE, the deployment of renewable energy
in the U.S. doubled. As the first scientist to head the DOE, Dr. Chu helped identify and
recruit a dozen outstanding scientists and engineers; he worked to create a “Bell Labs”
culture in ARPA-E, which is now being disseminated in other parts of the Energy Department
such as the solar photovoltaic program, “SunShot.”
From 2004-2009, he was the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and
Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of
California Berkeley. Prior to those positions, he was the Theodore and Francis Geballe
Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. During this time at
Stanford (1987 – 2004) he twice chaired the Department of Physics and helped start Bio-X, a
multi-disciplinary initiative that brings together the physical and biological sciences with
engineering and medicine. From 1978 – 1987, he worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories,
including four years as Head of the Quantum Electronics Research Department.
Chu’s thesis and postdoctoral work was one of the first successful observations of parity
non-conservation in atomic transitions, confirming the Weinberg-Salam-Glashow theory that
unified weak and electromagnetic interactions. While at Bell Laboratories Chu and A. Mills
performed the first laser spectroscopy of positronium, the fundamental atom consisting of an
electron and the positron, and muonium, an atom consisting of a proton and muon. While also
at Bell Labs, Chu also made contributions in condensed matter studies of exciton energy
transfer, Anderson Localization, and made the first observation of anomalous (faster than
light and negative velocity) pulse propagation.
While at Bell labs, Chu led the group that showed how to first cool and then trap atoms
with light. The “optical tweezers” trap, first demonstrated during the course of the atom
trapping work, is widely used in biology. Other contributions include the demonstration of
the magneto-optic trap, the most widely used atom trap today. At Stanford, he developed the
theory of laser cooling of actual, multilevel atoms (also independently by Claude
Cohen-Tannoudji and Jean Dalibard), and demonstrated the first atomic fountain/fountain
atomic clock. For this work, he was the co-recipient the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. He
group also introduced atom interferometry based on optical pulses of light, a technique that
has remained the most precise form of atom interferometry after two decades. Chu and his
colleagues used atom interferometry test the equivalence principle between a macroscopic
object and a quantum object to an accuracy of several parts per billion and in the precision
measurement of the coupling constant that defines the strength of electromagnetic
Using the optical tweezers, Chu introduced methods to simultaneously visualize and
manipulate single bio-molecules. This work led to investigations in polymer dynamics (using
DNA as the model polymer) that included studies of reputation and relaxation in polymer
solutions, the discovery of “molecular individualism”, and the observation of hysteresis in
the coil-stretch transition.
In single molecule biology, Chu, with James Spudich and Robert Simmons, designed and
developed an apparatus that was able to measure the force on an actin filament held by
optical tweezers when myosin molecular motors attached to the actin hydrolyzed ATP. Chu and
his group were the first group to use FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer) to study
the individual molecules tethered to a glass surface.
This advance allowed the Chu and his collaborators to perform the first single molecule
studies of the unfolding and multiple pathways of the refolding of the Tetrahymena, the
accommodation and proofreading mechanism of the ribosome, and studies of the enzymology of
the hairpin ribozyme and helicase enzymes. During this time Chu helped start Bio-X at
Stanford University, a multi-disciplinary program that combined the physical and biological
sciences with medicine and engineering.
More recent single molecule studies the role of SNARE and associated proteins responsible
for neural vesicle fusion and the demonstration of the assembly of the pre-initiation
complex and followed by eukaryotic transcription. His group has also been applying
sub-wavelength optical imaging to studies of cancer signaling, the structural development of
growing bio-films, while improving the spatial resolution to sub-nanometer resolution by
developing a method to measure and correct the non-uniform response of light in CCD
During the past ten years, Chu has also become active in marshaling scientists and
resources to address the energy problem with new pathways to sustainable, CO2 neutral
energy. He co-chaired the Inter-Academy Council report “Transitioning to Sustainable
Energy.” He was a member of the NAS/NAE/NRC committees that produced the reports, “Rising
Above the Gathering Storm” and “America’s Energy Future.” The “Rising Above the Gathering
Storm” report recommended the establishment of a new funding agency within the Department of
Energy, ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) that would focus on high-risk
high reward energy research that could result in the invention of disruptive
Chu led the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) from August 2004 to January 2009.
He stepped down to become the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy until April 2013. As the fist
scientist to hold a cabinet position and the longest serving Energy Secretary, he began
several initiatives including ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), the
Energy Innovation Hubs, and the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings. Also during his tenure,
the deployment of renewable energy doubled in the U.S. and solar energy deployment increased
10-fold. Chu was personally involved in recruiting numerous outstanding scientists and
engineers into the DOE, creating a more Bell-labs like culture in how the Department
evaluates and awards proposals. With colleagues from LBNL, he developed an improved
methodology for setting federal appliances standards. Chu was personally tasked by President
Obama to assist BP in stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and to
assist the Government of Japan with the tsunami-damaged nuclear reactors at
After his government service, Chu has returned to Stanford to become Professor of Physics
and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, where he will teach and continue his
research in biophysics, biomedicine, energy and energy economics.
The holder of 10 patents, Dr. Chu has published ~250 scientific and technical papers. In
addition to the Nobel Prize and numerous other honors, he is a member of the National
Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences, the Academia Sinica, and a foreign member of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the
Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology, Honorary
Fellow of the Institute of Physics and Honorary Member of the Optical Society of
He earned an A.B. degree in mathematics, and a B.S. degree in physics from the University
of Rochester, a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and has been
awarded 23 honorary degrees.
Description of the Collection
Papers pertain primarily to topics in physics and include notes, overhead transparencies
from his lectures, reprints, articles, memos, grants, correspondence, charts, and drawings.
Subjects include electric dipole moment, diode lasers, and dye lasers; and there are some
materials pertaining to departmental matters.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Physics -- Study and teaching.
Stanford University. Department of Physics