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Government Science

The Hobby of Energy Secretary Steven Chu 177

Posted by kdawson
from the needs-to-get-out-more dept.
quanminoan writes "Nobel Laureate and US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has continued to publish even while in federal office. While previous research topics include gravitational redshift, Chu has coauthored a paper entitled 'Subnanometre single-molecule localization registration and distance measurements' which discusses a way to optically image objects as small as 0.5 nm — a major step down from the previous limit of 10 nm. Chu does this in his free time, claiming 'I just consider it my equivalent of ... vegging out in front of the TV.'"
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The Hobby of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:54PM (#32863118)

    Ouch, the feeling of terrible inadequacy, laziness and lack of accomplishment. :P

    • Every year you age, it will get worse.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I used to have a boss- every time I saw him, the thought went through my head, "you must have been washing your hair while this guy was reading papers." His hair was never combed straight and he wiped everyone's ass across the floor in every scientific staff meeting.
    • by Rei (128717) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @10:32PM (#32863938) Homepage

      .. make fun of Chu, but I am such a Chu groupie. A surefire way to draw me to a conference is to announce that he'll be speaking there. ;) I just loved him during his confirmation hearing, how he perked up when finally asked a question that was even remotely technical. "Now we're getting to Science! I love this!" I had read some of his papers before he was even tapped for the position; I was so thrilled to hear he was picked. He really knows his stuff.

      His big weakness is that he's no politician, and he sometimes has trouble keeping is mouth shut from speaking politically inconvenient things. For example, dealing with the hydrogen people... ;)

      • His big weakness is that he's no politician, and he sometimes has trouble keeping is mouth shut from speaking politically inconvenient things. For example, dealing with the hydrogen people... ;)

        Be thankful. Here in the UK we sack our scientists for being politcally inconvenient, just look at the recent drugs fiasco.

      • by stoanhart (876182)

        It's a problem that he will speak the truth even though it may be politically inconvenient? Seems like a bonus qualification to me.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          Seems like a bonus qualification to me.

          You're obviously not a politician.

          (For which you may well be truly thankful. Or just casually thankful.)

      • Yeah, a friend of mine has worked with him occasionally. She's frighteningly smart (I've known and worked with large numbers of smart people, and she's scary smart in a population of a lot of smart people) and she thinks he's frighteningly smart.

      • Chu is good.

        It's nice anytime a superpower recognises the difference between politics and science, and has leadership with an IQ above room temperature.

        This is the first couple of years in a very, very long time where I haven't been afraid of you lot. Not that I shouldn't still be, perhaps, but the current situation is that I'm not.

        Good on you, mate.

    • I hope he still has time to make more soccer/kung fu movies

    • by anilg (961244)

      This story reminded me of the excellent Onion piece on Bush Jr.'s work in fermilab.
      http://www.theonion.com/articles/bush-finds-error-in-fermilab-calculations,1463/ [theonion.com]

    • Ouch, the feeling of terrible inadequacy, laziness and lack of accomplishment. :P

      My father was a scientist. He had a big production, over 100 papers. During evenings and weekends, he often retired to his study to work on these papers. Subject bubbled up and down as his interest floated from one to another, and sometimes they got to the surface, ready to get published.

      After many years I realized I'm operating in the same mode. I develop software. I have various open source and other software projects running, like bubbles waiting to get to the surface. I think a lot of people have a th

  • by ifeelswine (1546221) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:57PM (#32863134) Journal
    was doing fred flintstone impersonations
  • by OldSoldier (168889) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:59PM (#32863144)

    Two comments...

    a) how long before right wing pundits claim that this is proof Chu isn't doing the job he was hired for?
    b) is this viewing technique applicable in reverse for microchip optical etching/lithography?

    • b) is this viewing technique applicable in reverse for microchip optical etching/lithography?

      ...and does the US Government now own it?

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        That would be perfect because everything produced by the govornment is in the public domain.

        • by the gnat (153162)

          That would be perfect because everything produced by the govornment is in the public domain.

          Not even close. The AC who replied covered some of the major points, but it's pretty complex. Basically, the Bayh-Dole act (passed in 1982, I think) allows a great degree of latitude in commercialization of research done with government funding - the idea being to encourage economic development AND turn raw technologies into useful consumer products ("consumer" used in the broadest possible sense, since these techn

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      a) how long before right wing pundits claim that this is proof Chu isn't doing the job he was hired for?

      Well I think we just saw how long it takes for someone to politicise this.

      Pot, meet kettle.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mashiki (184564)

        Bingo, as a "rightwing nut" I couldn't care as long as he does his job when he's supposed to.

        • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:28PM (#32863306)

          Bingo, as a "rightwing nut" I couldn't care as long as he does his job when he's supposed to.

          That disqualifies you from being a "nut" - at least in this area.
          Now if you want to lay claim to believing Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret muslim terrorist, you can have that title back.

          • by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @10:35PM (#32863960)

            Obama was born in Kenya

            I. Don't. Fucking. Care.

            Quite seriously, why is that even important?

            I think a requirement that you have been a citizen, naturalized or not, for at least 15-20 years is reasonable. That would indicate you at least have some understanding of our culture and experience. There is already an age requirement, for pretty much the same reasons. That way, the unwashed masses could not get psychotic and vote in some barely 20 something American Idol finalist.

            Having to be born within some geographic boundaries as a serious consideration on whether or not I want you as my President? Ridiculous.... It is not much different than having to establish nobility on both sides for 5 generations. Way too much like a birthright to me. Why not call it something like Rule by Divine GPS Coordinates?

            We are all immigrants in this land, or children of immigrants. To grant a birthright, IMO, goes against what I consider being an American is. The idea is that WE get to elect our President. Why should our choice be limited on such an irrational basis? No felons? Makes sense. No children, or person under the age of 35? Sure, we want somebody mature. Purple? Uhhhh, what?

            I really could care less if Obama turned out to have been somewhere else on this planet. Saying he is secretly a fundamentalist Islamic Terrorist under Deep Cover is just CRAZY. No other words for it.

            What I am more concerned with is his piss poor performance so far as a President. Change never occurred, and things are really getting worse. Especially our rights, ACTA, Medical reform, reigning in Wall Street, ridiculous bail outs, etc. The last thing I care about right now is that he was allegedly born in Kenya.

            • by EdIII (1114411)

              I know it is bad form to reply to your own post, but I felt this was necessary to say, and you can mod this into oblivion if you want....

              Obama has not performed well, IMO, or represented MY interests. However, I do believe that wants what is best for America.

              To contrast that with Bush.... If there was somebody acting as a secret agent for another country trying to subvert and destroy America, Bush could have given the man lessons.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 11, 2010 @12:13AM (#32864370)

              Having to be born within some geographic boundaries as a serious consideration on whether or not I want you as my President? Ridiculous.... It is not much different than having to establish nobility on both sides for 5 generations. Way too much like a birthright to me. Why not call it something like Rule by Divine GPS Coordinates?

              You're right, that would be silly.

              But the Constitution doesn't say anything of the kind. It says, "a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution."

              You do know that children born to Americans outside the US are still citizens, right? That pregnant American women overseas are not rushed home in a terrified panic lest their children be foreigners with no right of residence? There's this whole nifty procedure we've got for these scenarios. There's this form you fill out with the local US Embassy to register the birth so that there won't be any problems later on when your child needs to prove their citizenship and their birth certificate is in Farsi or Basque.

              It might seem like Rule by Map, but that's really only true when dealing with, say, a non-citizen immigrant family who had one child before immigrating and another after. In that circumstance, yes, the location of the birth made all the difference, and the map won. I think edge cases like that are an acceptable sacrifice to make in the name of preserving our jus soli rather than jus sanguinis system of citizenship.

              I think the natural-born thing was a pretty reasonable defense mechanism for a tiny, fledgling group of republics who had just fought off the suzerainty of a king who had never set foot there. A king, indeed, who ruled over a great many lands he'd never set foot in; one amongst many such. Seems like a pretty fool-proof way to ensure that your leader has a vested interest in your nation's welfare, and isn't simply a silver-tongued French provocateur, no?

              If you don't like it, lobby to have the Constitution amended. It's a legacy of a bygone era, certainly, but it's not as capricious or asinine as you suggest.

          • by blindseer (891256)

            Now if you want to lay claim to believing Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret muslim terrorist, you can have that title back.

            I don't think that Obama being a Muslim terrorist is a secret. :D

          • by sco08y (615665)

            That disqualifies you from being a "nut" - at least in this area.
            Now if you want to lay claim to believing Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret muslim terrorist, you can have that title back.

            Secret muslim terrorist? So you have to actually invent conspiracies to make the right sound nutty?

            The birthers are basically claiming that Obama's paperwork is screwed up. Similar claims were made about McCain, and investigated. The extent of this conspiracy is the belief that Obama falsified his paperwork and is lying. It would be a major scandal if it were true, but hardly earth-shattering.

            True insanity is liberal: the belief that 9/11 was an inside job. In 2006, [url=http://www.scrippsnews.com/911poll]o

    • Hobbies are for pinko socialists!
    • by Improv (2467)

      Would be amusing to have people worrying that the Chinese even own positions in our government now :P

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dolphinzilla (199489)

      I know I am walking into your trap - but I know from my own personal career as an engineer that I have sought outside diversions (consulting, projects etc..) when I have had jobs where I was:

      a. Bored into oblivion / no challenges
      b. Couldn't get anything done at work because of process (one job I had as a government contractor)
      c. Felt my skills would wither and die if I did not actively pursue them myself

      So definitely I look at this as evidence of someone who is preparing for when this job is just a bad memo

      • and I'll add that when I have jobs that I find challenging, rewarding, interesting etc.. I have NO time or desire for outside distractions - just an observation from a proclaimed "Right Winger"

        • No multi-tasking for you too?
          • My current job is multitasking to the max ! Its one of those jobs that is so cool and fun you cannot believe you are getting paid to do it !

        • by turing_m (1030530)

          In any job there is going to be some tedious stuff. During those times, even when away from work, don't you ever get ideas that just pop into your head (e.g. something cool might be possible if I do x,y, and z) and you just have to get the nearest back of an envelope and start designing? Usually that is more fun than doing the routine part of a once interesting job. During those times I think it's good to reward your muse and make a rough design there and then, otherwise you might lose the idea forever.

        • by oiron (697563)
          Must make you a very interesting guy to be around...
    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Speaking as a DOE contractor and a fairly liberal guy, I can say... Crap. Not much of anything. I'm wondering if Obama, should he get a second term, will experience the typical attrition of cabinet members.

      And hoping, in at least one case, he will.

    • I'm a right-winger and everything I've seen Chu do while a cabinet member has made me say "Damn! I'm glad this guy has some sort of power".
  • Not too surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weezul (52464) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:06PM (#32863196)

    There are people around with amazing personalities, definitely not all top level academics are this dedicated, but they exist. Anyone who's done a PhD and postdoc(s) at top tier research universities will have spent time schmoozing with several.

    Obama got this guy largely because he asked. If a president doesn't get high level people, he's very likely got a reason he doesn't want them. Bush (cough)

    • I've schmoozed with plenty of PhDs and post-PhDs, and I haven't met a one whom I'd like to see in a position of any political power or federal-level responsibility. Does this guy Chu sound like he'd be an interesting fellow with whom to have to have a beer? Sure. But you could have described him as a self-taught banjo impresario or the CFO of a large alliance in Eve Online and he'd sound just as interesting, and just as qualified for a cabinet-level job.

      • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @09:31PM (#32863638)

        I work with people who have titles like "Chief Scientist". Some of them, sure, I'd vote for them for some office or another because I've seen them handle things like management and budget (this is the private sector after all) and how it pertains to pushing the edges of R&D. Concepts like "We can afford *this* cool breakthrough this year. Put *that* even cooler idea in your top drawer, and we'll explore it next year when we'll have more budget, but put hooks into your current design here and here for it so we can leverage the hardware we build this year."

        Others, if they were in charge, well, let's just say I'm not a violent person, but I'd personally lead the rebel army that took them down.

        Scientists are just people. The geekverse needs to let go of this scientist worship. Yes, this country needs to appreciate math and science more and yada yada and all that. I grok that and support it wholeheartedly. I'm ever considering writing a book to reach segments of our society previously written off for such things. But this idea that some here and elsewhere have that scientists are automatically these cool people dedicated to truth, justice and unbiased world views is pure fantasy. I can't even figure out where it came from other than as a reaction to all the religious loonery,

        • Scientists are just people. The geekverse needs to let go of this scientist worship.

          Putting aside the fact that some geeks are the scientists you describe, the public perception of scientists as white coat-wearing boffins with pipes and tweed jackets is more the fault of the media than the scientists themselves.

          I'm proud of the Beeb bringing Prof. Cox into the limelight - though I'm not a fan myself - but unfortunately there are many who will publically applaud the idea of our impartial, dedicated and modest whitecoat. They only do so to decry a real one.* Geeks aren't the problem because

          • the public perception of scientists as white coat-wearing boffins with pipes and tweed jackets is more the fault of the media than the scientists themselves.

            Well, they used to be in the days of flubber. Now they are depicted as remote and cold academics who inadvertently release one apocalypse or another upon the Earth. ;-) I cringed at the beginning of I am Legend where anti-cancer research via repurposed viruses was blamed. In the book the virus was a natural event.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Here's what Chu really brings to the table as Secretary of Energy: He knows wtf he's talking about, and more importantly wtf the various people who come to him are talking about.

        And don't think that's not a critical ability to have. If, for instance, you're the head of a software company, and you don't understand software, then it's very likely that you'll make poor decisions because one of your subordinates misleads you for their own gain, and you'll allow incompetent people to remain in their jobs because

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285)
      Someone can tell me if life has changed, but this is the way I recall authorship. The first author is ideally the person who did at least the broad development work(came up with the idea, worked out the general design, got funding) and hopefully wrote a rough draft of the paper. The second to n-1 author probably worked on the details and did the nitty gritty lab work, or equivalent. They probably expanded on the draft and created graphs to make almost a complete paper. The last author is often a high r
      • Yes, last authors are traditionally the older scientist who runs the laboratory, i.e. the guy who paid most everybody else. All the middle authors could be anything from other primary researchers or other grant holders or lab techs or just buddies of the author.

        Imho, the first authorship system doesn't work very well because often two people put equal work into a paper but you cannot have two first authors.

        In mathematics, we assume that all authors contribute significantly to the research, and all authors

  • The gravity abstract says:

    ...gravity is a manifestation of space-time curvature..

    I thought it was the other way around, that is, gravity results in space-time curvature. How does matter warp space-time if it isn't using gravity (whatever that is) to do it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BKX (5066)

      An object's mass warps space-time. Gravity is the after-effect. (Of course there are issues with that theory but it's a good start.)

    • "Matter tells space how to bend. Space tells matter how to move" - Young Einstien (movie).
  • NO! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yaos (804128) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:27PM (#32863300)
    It's disgusting that we allow this person to be in office. His pro-science methods are incompatible with energy policy, pure and simple.
  • by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @09:48PM (#32863702)
    He makes his own Chu Jelly. The blue's okay, but don't eat the purple.
  • Since that combination of high intelligence and ambition is so often NOT socially beneficial, it's a damned good thing that this one wound up becoming a nerd and distracted with science....

  • by Z8 (1602647) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @11:24PM (#32864172)

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/bush-finds-error-in-fermilab-calculations,1463/

    Funny, but the fact that it's funny is also sad (sad that it's so ridiculous to think he'd be interested in science). Glad that what was parody is now sorta true.

  • TFA states:

    Instead of objects measuring 10 nanometers — thought to be the about the smallest scientists could see using such microscopes — Chu came up with a system using existing technology to see objects... as small as half a nanometer.

    Near-field Scanning Optical Microscopy (NSOM) [azonano.com] has been an active area of research for over 25 years, and sub-nanometer aperture instruments have been on the market [nanonics.co.il] for over 20 years.

    Unfortunately, neither the poster nor TFA linked Chu's paper, or any other source of real information about Chu's claims. It could very well be that he has done something new and useful, but it sure doesn't sound like it from this article.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ygslash (893445)

      Ah, here is Chu's paper: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature09163.html [nature.com]

      So this is conventional far-field microscopy. There is a hard physical limit to the resolution in far-field microscopes, about 250nm. Chu is demonstrating a way to leverage existing knowledge about the sample to coax out more information, e.g., the distance between what is already known to be two distinct fluorescent dots.

      A far cry from "seeing objects" at that scale using far-field microscopy, as claimed by MS

  • Chu's leap in optical resolution using existing technology almost mirrors Marvin Minsky's first major invention, the confocal microscope (1957).

    We got ourselves a good one kids.

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