Steven Chu named director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Steven Chu

The University of California Board of Regents has named Nobel laureate Steven Chu, professor of physics and applied physics, as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Chu will take office Aug. 1, becoming the first Asian American to direct a national laboratory.

Stanford President John Hennessy called Chu "an outstanding choice" to lead one of the nation's most prestigious research laboratories. "While we are sorry to see him move on, we understand that the directorship of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a unique opportunity that presents itself once in a lifetime," Hennessy said. "We are confident that the spirit of collegial collaboration between our two universities, which is critical to the Bay Area's position as the epicenter of the physics world, will be well served by Professor Chu in his new role."

UC President Robert C. Dynes said Chu brings to the position outstanding leadership qualities and a record of superior achievement in science. "His combination of skills is precisely what we need to keep the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the forefront of scientific excellence and to guide the lab wisely through the upcoming potential contract competition," Dynes said.

Under federal contract, the University of California manages three national laboratories for the Department of Energy - at Berkeley, Livermore and Los Alamos. Recent management and security problems at Los Alamos led to the opening of the labs' management contracts to outsider bidders. The current contract expires next year.

"The opportunity to lead Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at this time is an exciting prospect and a tremendous honor," said Chu, 56, who will hold a joint appointment in UC-Berkeley's Physics Department. "I hope it will strengthen UC's competitiveness for managing the lab. The lab has excellent people and its competitiveness depends on them."

Chu, the Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, has been on the Stanford faculty since 1987. In an e-mail interview, he called his years at Stanford "among the happiest and most productive of my life."

He chaired the Physics Department from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1999 to 2001. He was a member of the ad-hoc cabinet committee on budget and strategic planning, formed in 1991 during a critical period for the university, and was a member of the presidential search committee that brought Gerhard Casper to Stanford in 1992. With three other professors, he initiated Bio-X, a campuswide program to bring together researchers from diverse disciplines. He went on to help plan Bio-X and its centerpiece, the James H. Clark Center. He also played a key role in establishing and funding the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford.

Chu received his doctorate in physics from UC-Berkeley in 1976 as a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory employee. From 1978 to 1987, he worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

In 1997, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

As director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu will earn $350,000 annually and oversee an operation with a $521-million budget and a work force of approximately 4,000.