Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dr. Chu goes to Washington...

... and ends up hungover, waking up next to a solar panel. In a clever combination of the politician's non-denial denial of the affair and his characteristic dry wit while more or less staying true to what he believes in:

“I just want everyone to know that my decision not to serve a second term as Energy Secretary has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations made in this week’s edition of the Onion. While I’m not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically, I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of US jobs and is becoming more and more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”

His wife purportedly expressed skepticism: "Is that really you? You don't have hair on your chest."

In a sense, Prof. Steve Chu's stint in Washington D.C. does indeed feel like the Frank Capra's movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He even showed an excerpt of it (2m16s until about 2m37s). The naïve and nerdy physicist who's an ardent advocate for renewable energy and had to be forced to talk about the oil and gas industries as SoE.

He talked about many many examples of how a technology was initially derided and dismissed even by subject experts until it found an agent of dissemination who made it economically feasible and popular. And then it becomes as obvious to anyone. Like James Watt to the steam engine and Henry Ford to the automobile. A log-log-linear learning curve, if you will.

"[Refrigerator size] is not plateauing because of the size of the American appetite. It's plateauing because of the size of the kitchen door."

He clearly enjoyed his time at Bell Labs. Of the "flat structure where everyone argued about ideas but respected one another as people." I wish I could always find such places to do my work in... If there are more articulate scientists with social conscience, perhaps the Earth would not be totally destroyed after all...

"We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children."

At the end of the talk, he quoted Apollo 8 astronauts and showed the entirety of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.

Two members of the audience asked him questions along the line of "how do you encourage scientists/ students/ student-scientists to be involved in policy? Any advice?" I don't remember what he said exactly, but it had the gist of Dory the blue tang's "just keep swimming just keep swimming just keep swimming swimming swimming"

Mwahaha sorry about the earworm. And if anyone can comment on the feasibility of fusion as an energy source, it would be the veteran laser guru.

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