Prof Steven Chu giving a seminar at The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Steven Chu ( pinyin: Zhū Dìwén; born February 28, 1948 in St. Louis) is a Chinese American physicist who, with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips, was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for their independent, pioneering research in cooling and trapping atoms using laser light. He is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Chu graduated from the University of Rochester, N.Y., in 1970 with a B.S. in physics and an A.B. in mathematics. He received his doctorate in physics in 1976 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a postdoctoral fellow from 1976 to 1978. He joined the staff at Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, N.J., in 1978 and became the head of the quantum electronics research department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Holmdel, N.J., in 1983.

In 1985 Chu and his coworkers used an array of intersecting laser beams to create an effect they called "optical molasses", in which the speed of target atoms was reduced from about 4,000 kilometres per hour to about one kilometre per hour, as if the atoms were moving through thick molasses. The temperature of the slowed atoms approached absolute zero (-273.15 C, or -459.67 F). Chu and his colleagues also developed an atomic trap using lasers and magnetic coils that enabled them to capture and study the chilled atoms. Phillips and Cohen-Tannoudji expanded on Chu's work, devising ways to use lasers to trap atoms at temperatures even closer to absolute zero. These techniques make it possible for scientists to improve the accuracy of atomic clocks used in space navigation, to construct atomic interferometers that can precisely measure gravitational forces, and to design atomic lasers that can be used to manipulate electronic circuits at an extremely fine scale.

In 2005 Chu proposed a theoretical and novel way to produce ethanol from wood to solve the world's energy problem by duplicating the digestive track of termites. Termites digest cellulose and convert it into ethanol via a carbon-neutral process of digestion.

He became a professor in the physics and applied physics departments at Stanford University in 1987 and went on leave 2004 when he took on the directorship of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Chu is married to Jean Chu, an Oxford-trained physicist and former physics professor at San Jose State University in CA.

Steven Chu's older brother is Gilbert Chu, Professor of Biochemistry and Medicine at Stanford University, and his younger brother is influential lawyer Morgan Chu of southern California.


  • LBL homepage
  • Information about Steven Chu
  • Stanford homepage
  • Termite Guts Can Save The Planet
  • development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
  • (source text under GNU)

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