Steven Chu is the Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. He did his PhD and postdoctoral work at Berkeley before joining AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1978. While at Bell Laboratories, he did the first laser spectroscopy of positronium, an atom consisting of an electron and positron. Also at Bell Laboratories, he showed how to cool atoms with laser light (optical molasses) and demonstrated the first optical trap for atoms. This trap, known as “optical tweezers,” is also used to trap microscopic particles in water and is widely used in biology. His group demonstrated the magneto-optic trap, the most commonly used atom trap.

He joined the Stanford Physics Department in 1987. His group at Stanford made the first frequency standard based on an atomic fountain of atoms and developed ultra-sensitive atom interferometers. Using the optical tweezers, He developed methods to simultaneously visualize and manipulate single bio-molecules. His group is also applying methods such as fluorescence microscopy, optical tweezers and atomic force methods to study the protein and RNA folding and enzyme activity of individual bio-molecules. Notable findings include the discovery of “molecular individualism” and the chemical/kinetic basis for “molecular memory”.

For his work, he has received numerous awards including co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academia Sinica. He is also a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Korean Academy of Science and Engineering.

This profile was last updated on May 23, 2020

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