The Secretary’s visit

Associate Director for Accelerators Stuart Henderson and Fermilab Director Pier Oddone give Energy Secretary Steven Chu a tour of the SRF Test Facility during his visit to the laboratory on June 2.

Last week we had the privilege to host Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the laboratory. It was an opportunity for us to explain our program and ambitions, to showcase our facilities and to make the case for supporting the fundamental research that we do. Secretary Chu had not been to Fermilab since his days as a graduate student, when he was performing precision measurements in quantum chromodynamics. Secretary Chu’s understanding of physics is extremely broad, extending from issues in general relativity to biophysical processes at the cellular and molecular levels and precision measurements relevant to particle physics. While director at Berkeley Lab he oversaw a large group of students and postdocs carrying out research.

It is always fun and challenging to make a presentation to Secretary Chu. He has the ability to ask very deep questions that can easily put any presenter on the spot. His own public lecture to the Fermilab audience showed that he had given careful thought to our work. In fact he was modifying his own transparencies literally until the last minute, keeping his entourage on edge. His appreciation for the long-term research that we do was very evident during his public lecture.

His broad range of interests and depth has led the administration to call on him when there have been dreadful technical crises such as the Gulf oil spill disaster or the Fukushima reactors disaster that required complex analysis and solutions. Most recently he has begun leading an effort to understand the environmental issues in hydro-fracturing of natural gas reservoirs, or “fracking,” that have been in the news. In tackling these multi-dimensional problems, Secretary Chu has put together teams of experts in the national laboratories, universities and industries. The ability to mobilize these technical resources to solve national problems of scale has helped make the case for broad national support of science and engineering in the country, to the benefit of us all.