Steven Chu is appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Steven Chu
Steven Chu

Pope Francis has appointed physicist STEVEN CHU to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The academy consists of 80 life members who are chosen regardless of religious affiliation to work together to examine issues of scientific importance. Chu joins Stanford professors PAUL BERG and HELEN BLAU as members of the academy.

Chu, professor of physics and of molecular and cellular physiology, had attended a previous pontifical science meeting and said he was very impressed with what the pope planned to do with his scientific council. One topic that stood out to Chu – who was the U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 2009 to April 2013 – was the pope’s perspective on climate change.

“The pope has come out very strongly in favor of being proactive on climate change,” said Chu, who is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor. “He identified, quite properly, that climate change will affect those people who have the fewest resources to adapt: the poorest people and the poorest countries in those area that are predicted to have the greatest risks. It will also affect the most innocent: those yet to be born.”

In announcing Chu’s appointment on Oct. 20, the Vatican News highlighted his work on atomic physics, polymers, biology and energy technology. It also mentioned his 1997 Nobel Prize in physics, which he shared with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Phillips for the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light – often described as trapping atoms in “optical molasses” – for the purposes of studying them in more detail and with greater accuracy.

Pope Pius XI established the academy in 1936 with goals that include ensuring that the benefits of science and technology reach the most people and encouraging dialogue between science and spiritual, cultural, philosophical and religious values.