KNOWN FOR: Winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997 for his research on laser cooling. He has advocated strongly for the development of green technologies to stem global warming, and encouraged the Berkeley Lab to shift its focus to alternative energy research and upgrade its facilities to meet higher environmental standards. (In a 2006 long-term development report, he wrote, "we are committed to developing the Laboratory in a manner that sets the standard for resource conservation and stewardship.") He helped convince oil giant BP to select Berkeley as the site for a $500 million biofuels institute.
CONTROVERSIES: None, really, except that he has little experience in beltway politics and will be heading into a big D.C. bureaucracy. (On the other hand, the Berkeley Lab staffs 4,000 people and has a budget of $650 million, which means he has some experience in management, and perhaps of all Cabinet departments, the DOE focuses most heavily on research and development projects.)
TRIVIA: Would be the first Chinese American to hold the energy post. A 2007 profile in The San Francisco Chronicle dubbed him a leader on global warming. In the article, Chu bluntly described the world's environmental crisis and how the Berkeley Lab, and the U.S., should approach it: "These are serious predictions. ... It's prudent risk management [to act now]. It's like saying, ‘Your house will burn down in the next 10 years--50 percent probability. By the way, do you want fire insurance?'"