Steven Chu announced today that he will soon step down as head of the US energy department, a move that had been widely anticipated. Nature this week previewed some of the potential replacements for Chu and other members of US President Barack Obama’s environmental team.
In his letter to energy department employees, Chu highlighted a string of accomplishments, including starting the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), founding Energy Innovation Hubs for applied research and overseeing a doubling in the country’s production of solar and wind energy.
Nature recognized Chu as its newsmaker of the year in 2009 for his role in revamping America’s energy research and power systems. He played an important part in helping to stem the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but he also faced strong criticism from foes in Congress, particularly over a US$535-million loan guarantee that his department made to the solar-cell manufacturing firm, Solyndra, which entered bankruptcy in 2011.
In his letter today, Chu told employees that he and his wife will return to California and he would like to resume teaching and research.