Birthplace: St. Louis, Mo.
Steven Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. Chu's parents had come to the United States in the early 1940s to study and decided to stay when war made a return to China unlikely. His family tree claims many scientists and engineers, and Chu professes to be the academic black sheep, holding only one advanced degree. While his illustrious relatives attended Ivy League schools, future Nobelist Chu attended the University of Rochester for his undergraduate degree and Berkeley for graduate work. In 1978 he went to work at Bell Laboratories, where he did his award-winning work. He went on to teach at Stanford and continued his work and also did research on polymer physics and biology. In 2004 he was named director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chu as his secretary of energy.