A man's gotta have a hobby: Energy Secretary Steven Chu publishes scientific research in his spare time.
Hmmm, so how about these federal employees who moonlight on the side? Maybe we're not keeping them busy enough? But Steven Chu, who just managed to publish yet another scientific paper while holding down his day job as U.S. secretary of energy, insists that his ongoing physics work isn't a side gig so much as it is fun.
"The first 70 or 75 hours a week absolutely go to my real job," Chu told us late last week on the phone from Texas, where he was tending to oil-spill business. "This is my hobby. Pleasure time. I could watch TV, I could go play golf -- or I could do this."
Pleasure time may not be what you want to devote to reading Chu's latest article in the journal Nature: "Subnanometre single-molecule localization, registration and distance measurements." It concerns a system that Chu and two junior colleagues devised to refine the ability of optical microscopes to detect and measure the distance between really, really, really small things going on inside biological matter -- down to the size of less than half a nanometer. The previous limit was 15 to 20 nanometers. (A human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide.)
The work took seven or eight years, he said, most of it long before he joined the Obama team. They first submitted the paper about a year ago -- and while two reviewers loved it, he said, a third quibbled that it seemed too technical and suggested more demonstrations, which they crafted before resubmitting successfully.
So, being energy secretary doesn't get you any breaks?
"Oh, of course not. Definitely not!" Chu told us. "Having a Nobel Prize doesn't get you anywhere either." (He won his in 1997.) He added: "It's probably much more fun if you're a reviewer, and you can shoot down someone like that. That's the good thing about the review process -- they don't care who you are."
The Reliable Source
July 13, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
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