Steven Chu Addresses the National Labs

By John Conway | January 22, 2009 2:20 pm

The new Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, addressed the national labs in an all-hands video transmission today. I was not there, but my colleague and friend Rob Roser at Fermilab was there, and sent me a very nice bulleted summary. So, you are getting this second hand, and people who were there can add nuances in the comments, but here goes:

  • Energy is the defining issue of our time.
  • Addressing the environment is the major reason Chu took on this job.
  • These problems provide a tremendous opportunity for the DOE, but it comes with a burden: we can not fail.
  • The DOE is the principal supporter of physical sciences in the US, and the physical sciences are the conernstone of prosperity for the US future.
  • This was part of the message of the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report.
  • The DOE should endeavor to replace the great industrial labs that no longer exist as they once did.
  • The DOE will be the “go to” organization for a multitude of key problems — will depend on all labs to help.
  • The DOE can quite literally “save the world” by developing a sound energy policy going forward, and invent new science that will provide new technologies.
  • Our current use of energy not sustainable — have to move forward.
  • We are facing something society has never been asked to do before: to deal with ominous problems with climate change. If half of the things climate science tells us are half true, we have a huge problem on our hands and the DOE has to work to provide those solutions.
  • The Obama administration is creating a new Energy and Climate Change Council which will serve as a coordinating body including all stake holders in this arena. DOE is first and formost in this but Interior, Agriculture, Treasury and Defense etc. all play a role.
  • The DOE is the science and technology “arm of energy”.
  • There is a core of truly oustanding scientists at the national labs, and these labs have trained many successful scientists.
  • The national labs are “crown jewels that the US doesn’t want to lose”.
  • Restimulation of the economy is #1 on the priority list. DOE will get considerable funds in the stimulus package, not just to get the economy going but to provide a long term path for the US.
  • We can’t be completely overwhelmed by the short term economic woes; we need to still find a path to solve our long term problems. The DOE has to invent transformative technologies that will allow us to get to the next level of energy independence.
  • Chu sees a lot of young and middle age scientists shifting careers to deal with energy, and the DOE is optimistic to capture the best and brightest to work on these issues.

I am truly awed by the vision presented by Chu here, and so hopeful that we can get our country back on a path to long term prosperity by supporting research in the physical sciences. At least half of our present economy relies on the knowledge gained in the 20th century about our physical world…one can only imagine the revolutions to come.

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