Steven Chu



Steven Chu is the Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. Professor Chu's research is primarily in atomic physics, quantum electronics, polymer and bio-physics.


His thesis and postdoctoral work at Berkeley, the observation of parity non-conservation in atomic transitions in 1978, was one of the earliest atomic physics confirmations of the Weinberg-Salam-Glashow theory that unifies the weak and electromagnetic forces.


While at Bell Laboratories he and Allen Mills did the first laser spectroscopy of positronium, the bound state of an electron and positron in 1982. They went on to measure the 1s-2s energy level splitting of that atom to an accuracy of a few parts per billion. They also made the first measurement of the corresponding transition in muonium, an atom consisting of muon+ and an electron. He also worked on exciton energy transfer in solids and picosecond pulse propagation in solids.


In 1985, he led the group that showed how to first cool and then trap atoms with light. The optical trap was also used to trap microscopic particles in water: these so-called "optical tweezers" are widely used in biology. The first optical trapping was followed by the demonstration of the magneto-optic trap, the most commonly used atom trap. After joining the Stanford Physics Department in 1987, Chu (and independently, Dalibard and Cohen-Tannoudji) explained how multi-level atoms can be cooled far below the minimum temperature predicted by the theory of two-level atoms. His group also demonstrated the first atomic fountain and then made the first atomic fountain frequency standard to exceed the short term stability of atomic clocks maintained by standards laboratories. They developed a novel atom interferometer that has already exceeded the accuracy of the most accurate commercial inertial sensors.


Using the optical tweezers, Chu developed methods to simultaneously visualize and manipulate single bio-molecules. Using this new technique, his group have used single DNA molecules to address a number of  problems in polymer science. His group is also applying methods such as fluorescence energy transfer, optical tweezers and atomic force microscope methods  to study the protein and RNA folding, translation and other enzyme activity at the level of individual bio-molecules.


Chu has been awarded the Herbert Broida Prize for Spectroscopy (American Physical Society, 1987), Richtmyer Memorial Prize Lecturer (APS/AAPT, 1990), co-winner of the King Faisal International Prize for Science (1993), the Arthur Schawlow Prize for Laser Science (APS, 1994), the William Meggers Award for Laser Spectroscopy (Optical Society of America, 1994), the Science for Art Prize (Louis Vitton - Möet Hennesey, 1995), and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1997). Chu received a Humboldt Senior Scientist award (1995) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1996).


He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academica Sinica. He is also a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Korean Academy of Science and Engineering.



From Les Prix Nobel 1997.

Steven Chu receiving his Nobel Prize from the hands of His Majesty the King at the Stockholm Concert Hall 1997



Academic Career


    Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics

    Physics Department, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305-4060



    A.B.,  Mathematics, University of Rochester, 1970

    B.S.,  Physics, University of Rochester, 1970

    Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Berkeley, 1976



    Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California at Berkeley, 1976-1978

    Member of Technical Staff, Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, 1978-1983

    Head, Quantum Electronics Research Department, AT&T Bell Laboratories,        Holmdel, 1983-1987

    Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Stanford University, 1987-present

    Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, 1990

    Chair of the Physics Dept., Stanford Univ., 1990-1993, 1999-2000


Visiting Lectureships:

    Morris Loeb Lecturer, Harvard University, 1988

    Special Visitor to JILA, 1989, 1999

    Visiting Professor, Collège de France, 1990


Scientific Interests and current areas of research:

    Parity non-conservation in atoms

    Excitons, energy transfer in solids and Anderson localization

    Picosecond spectroscopy

    Positronium and muonium spectroscopy

    Laser cooling and trapping of atoms, atom interferometry

    Polymer physics




    Stoddard Prize in Mathematics, Univ. of Rochester, 1968

    Phi Beta Kappa, 1969

    Stoddard Prize in Physics, Univ. of Rochester, 1970

    Woodrow Wilson Fellow, 1970

    National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, 1970-74

    National Science Postdoctoral Fellow, 1977-78

    Broida Prize for Laser Spectroscopy, (Am. Phys. Soc.) 1987

    Richtmyer Memorial Prize Lecturer (Am. Phys. Soc./Am Assoc. Phys.Teachers) 1990

    Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1992

    King Faisal International Prize for Science, 1993

    Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1993

    Member, Academica Sinica, 1994

    Arthur Schawlow Prize for Laser Science, (Am. Phys. Soc.) 1994

    William F. Meggers Award for Spectroscopy, (Opt. Soc. of Am.) 1994

    Distinguished Traveling Lecturer, Am. Phys. Soc. Division of Laser Science, 1994-96

    Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, 1995

    Science for Art Prize (Sponsored by LVMH), 1995

    Guggenheim Fellowship, 1996

    Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997

    Member of the American Philosophical Society, 1998

    Chinese Academy of Sciences, Foreign Member,1998

    Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology, Foreign member, 1998


Partial List of Professional Service:

    Chair, Am. Phys. Soc. Division of Laser Science, 1989-90

    Associate Editor, Optics Letters, 1989-96

    Member of the NSF Physics Advisory Committee, 1990-93

    Member of the NAS Committee on Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, 1992-94

    Quantum Electronics Representative of the Int. Union of Pure and Applied Scientists, 1993-95

    Member, NAS study on "Free Electron Lasers", 1993-94

    Member, NAS study on "Optical Science and Engineering", 1995-96

    Member, Executive Committee, NAS Board on Physics and Astronomy, 1996-99

    Editorial board member, Biophysical Journal, 1998-present

    Member, NIH Advisory Committee to the Director, 1999-present


Partial List of Stanford University Service:

    Appointments and Promotions Committee, School of Humanities and Sciences, 1989-90, 1995-96

    Cabinet Committee on Budget and Strategic Planning, 1990-92

    Presidential Search Committee, 1991-92

    School of Humanities and Sciences Academic Council, 1993-present

    Academic Senate, 1993-94, 1995-98

    Provostial Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of Women, 1992-94

    Member of Committee on Committees, 1993-94, 1997-98

    Executive member of Bio-X planning committee, 1998-present


Other Activities:

    Chair of the Physics Dept. Visiting Committee, Ecole Normale Superieur, 1999

    Chair of the Physics Dept. Visiting Committee, Harvard University, 1999

    Board of Trustees member, University of Rochester

    Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of SEQ, LTD (Biotech company)

    Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Cell Robotics (Biotech company)

    Visiting Committee, Physics Department, Harvard University, 1992, 1995

    Visiting Committee, Physics Department, Yale University, 1996.




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