Writing for Wired, Betsy Mason explains why Barack Obama’s choice for Department of Energy head, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, is a great one:
I met Chu four years ago when he became director of the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which I covered as a science reporter at a Bay Area newspaper. Since then, he has consistently thought big, followed through and exceeded expectations. I think he has what it takes to keep doing so.
He recognizes the need to invest in science, from grade schools to universities to industry. He sees the imperative for the government to think in new and big ways about the energy problem. He understands we have to face up to climate change. And, most importantly, he has ideas about how to get it all done and the character to make them happen.
Chu is a scientist, not a politician. Yet he’s personable, articulate, and more than capable of holding his own in the tough arena of public discourse in an increasingly sensitive and critical area.
Physicists, though I love them, can be among the most difficult scientists to to carry on a conversation with. Not Chu. He isn’t merely well-spoken for a scientist, he is well-spoken, period.
He was able to tune his explanation of his Nobel Prize-winning research precisely to my level of understanding. And I’m not alone — I’ve witnessed him successfully explain high-energy particle physics to Arnold Schwarzenegger as well.
He’s as comfortable talking about how to solve the world’s energy problems as he is describing a childhood filled with Erector sets and homemade rockets. He’d be a great guy to hang out with over a couple of beers. And while this may not seem to be an important qualification for a cabinet secretary, I think it is.
Chu has the ability to win people over, and this will be critical if he is going to make the kind of impact on the country’s energy policy that I think he can.
Time will tell, but if nothing else, America can count on this guy to be open, forthright, and honest about where he believes the U.S. needs to go and what it will take to get there. Given the shadiness and deceit that has characterized virtually the entire cabinet in the past eight years, that alone is cause for optimism.