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UC Picks Stanford Physicist to Run Lab at Berkeley

June 18, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

UC regents on Thursday named Steven Chu, a Stanford University physics professor who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize, as the next director of the UC-run Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Chu, 55, will assume the post Aug. 1, replacing Charles V. Shank, who earlier this year announced he would step down as head of the science, energy and engineering research facility. University of California officials said Chu would become the first Asian American to lead a national laboratory.

UC President Robert C. Dynes praised Chu on Thursday as a "scientist of extraordinary breadth" who would bring leadership qualities and a record of academic achievement to the position.

Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics with two others for his use of lasers to cool and trap atoms, allowing them to be measured and studied. In recent years, he has focused on polymer physics and biophysics.

The Berkeley lab, in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus, conducts unclassified science and engineering research across a range of disciplines. It is one of three national labs -- including the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons facilities -- that UC has managed for the federal government for many years.

After a series of problems, the Energy Department last year ordered the Los Alamos contract for the first time opened to competition. Congress later directed the contracts for other labs, including Livermore and Berkeley, to be put up for bid as well.

UC officials, as they have previously, said Thursday that they have yet to decide whether to compete for any of the contracts. But Chu's credentials, Dynes said, "reflect the seriousness with which we are approaching a potential competition. We are as serious as we could possibly be."

UC's contract for the Berkeley lab was extended in January for a year. The Energy Department is expected later this year to release bidding specifics for Berkeley and Los Alamos.

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