Plenary/ECS Lecture

Gather with your colleagues

The plenary session is one of the highlighted events of the meeting, allowing participants from every symposia to come together and recognize some of the greatest minds in the field.

ECS President Johna Leddy will wrap up the first full day of the 232nd ECS Meeting by welcoming the ECS meeting attendees and introducing the highly anticipated lecturer, Steven Chu and his talk “The Role of Electrochemistry in our Transition to Sustainable Energy.”

The agenda also includes:

  • Olin Palladium Award, presented to Philippe Marcus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique – Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Paris (CNRS-ENSCP)
  • Carl Wagner Memorial Award, presented to Eric Wachsman, University of Maryland

Be sure to add the talks of the Society, division, and section award winners to your meeting scheduler, they are in various symposia throughout the week.

ECS Lecture

Monday, Oct. 2 | 1700-1800
Maryland A/B

The Role of Electrochemistry in our Transition to Sustainable Energy by Steven Chu

Steven Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. He has published over 275 papers in fields that include atomic physics, polymer physics, biophysics, biology, energy, batteries and holds 11 patents. Currently, he is developing new optical nanoparticle probes and new optical, acoustic and photoacoustic imaging methods for applications in biology and biomedicine. He is also exploring new approaches to lithium-ion batteries, PM2.5 air filtration, and other applications of nanotechnology.

Chu was the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 2009 until April 2013. As the first scientist to hold a Cabinet position, he recruited outstanding scientists and engineers into the Department of Energy. He began several initiatives including ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), the Energy Innovation Hubs, the U.S. – China Clean Energy Research Centers (CERC), and was personally tasked by President Obama to assist BP in stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Prior to his Cabinet post, he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley from 2005 to 2008. Previously, he was the Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. He helped launch Bio-X at Stanford University, a multidisciplinary institute combining the physical and biological sciences with medicine and engineering, and the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology. Previously, he was head of the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Chu is the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997) for his contributions to laser cooling and atom trapping. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Sinica, and is a foreign member of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology. He received an AB degree in mathematics and a BS degree in physics from the University of Rochester. He earned a PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and has 30 honorary degrees.

Q&A with Steven Chu

What part is electrochemistry going to play in energy production?

I’ve been going around giving talks for the last two years saying that electrochemistry’s about to see a real resurgence because if you look over the horizon, electricity’s going to cost three cents, then two cents, and even less per kilowatt hour. At two cents per kilowatt hour, all of a sudden electrochemistry becomes something very real. There are ways you can have clean energy powering a mixture of wind, hydro, sun, pump water source, all sorts of things, so you can run an electrochemical plant 24/7. Things are wide open now. Renewable electricity can be cheap at certain times and if you have the right kind of storage to keep an electrochemical plant going 24/7, then you’re in a different ballgame. To me, that’s very exciting because that means a new world is going to open up.

Are you optimistic about the future of energy?

I think as a scientist, you have to be optimistic because usually what you’re doing is trying to shoot for the moon. My optimism comes from the fact that you’ve got a whole bunch of very smart people who are focused on all of the technical problems in the world, including sustainability, energy, and climate change. These researchers are very motivated, and I just hope that someday soon the U.S. federal government goes back to supporting this kind of work.

You were awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” Tell us about that work.

I kind of independently discovered a proposal that had been around for a while. It was a very famous paper that I stumbled upon in ’83. I went to my director at Bell Labs and said, “I think this is going to work. It’s so simple, it’s got to work.” Within 12 months from the time I had the idea, I actually sat down and wrote the first draft of the so-called “optical molasses paper,” the three-dimensional cooling that got atoms down below a quarter of a thousandth of a degree above absolute zero. A year later we trapped atoms. A year after that we got a much better combined, cooled atom trap. And in those three years, especially the last trap, the so-called “magneto-optic trap,” that brought laser cooling and trapping to the world.

How did you become U.S. Secretary of Energy?

In mid-November I got a phone call saying the President-elect would like to talk to me about an important job, so I said, “How important?” When they said Secretary of Energy, I said, “Okay, I might consider that one.” So I flew to Chicago and talked to [Obama] one-on-one for about an hour. I came away thinking that I really liked this guy. We see eye to eye on many things, most things regarding energy. I told my wife, “If he asks me, I’ll say yes.” So I went to Washington and tried to help the President develop clean energy solutions and a lot of it worked. Now the current administration is trying to undo most of it, but some of it can’t be undone.