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Physicist Searches for Alternative Fuel Technologies

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu and his team of scientists received $500 million in February from energy company BP to develop clean biofuel technologies. As part of a series on climate change, the NewsHour profiles Chu's search for solutions to fuel problems.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    It was a sign of how in vogue concern about global warming is: Six Nobel Prize-winning scientists at the University of California at Berkeley donned makeup and posed in a tree…

  • PHOTOGRAPHER:

    No, don't stand, don't stand. Don't smile. Nothing to smile about.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    … for a special green issue of Vanity Fair. Among the science stars was Steven Chu, a 59-year-old physicist who, as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, welcomed the attention to the problem.

    Today, Chu is using his bully pulpit to coordinate a scientific attack on global warming.

  • STEVEN CHU, Scientist:

    So if you say, "Wait until you're really sure," then it will be too late. In the last five or six years, I was following this as an interested citizen. And it became more and more apparent to me that the dangers, potential risks of climate change were looking like they're more and more likely, and that one really has to, as a scientist, as a responsible scientist, we really have to think of, what can you do to help with this problem?

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    The Lawrence Berkeley lab has long been active in promoting energy conservation. The compact fluorescent light bulb was invented here, and scientists have been experimenting with ways to cut down energy use by electronically controlling how much light goes through windows. Air conditioning and heating due to inefficient windows account for 15 percent of all energy used in the U.S.

    But Chu thought a more comprehensive effort was needed, including finding new energy sources, so he has harnessed independent-minded biologists, chemists, physicists, and engineers from the lab and from the Berkeley campus to work together, something that's rare in academia.

  • STEVEN CHU:

    Can we get the very best basic researchers to take this on as a challenge? Then you have the intellectual horsepower to actually get something going. And you can't do this — the magnitude and scale of the problem is something you cannot do as an individual researcher.

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