As a Nobel-winning physicist, Steven Chu brought an empirical focus to the Department of Energy. But the star scientist—who will reportedly step down as Energy Secretary for Obama's second term—often struggled to solve the formulas behind Beltway politics. Bloomberg's Hans Nichols & Jim Snyder today cited two people familiar with the matter who say that an announcement could come as soon as this week, confirming previously reported expectations that Chu will leave his Cabinet position.
Before joining the Obama cabinet, Chu directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and taught at Stanford University. His contributions toward the discovery of laser cooling techniques (ways to trap atoms using light, basically) earned him a Nobel Prize in 1997 and wide respect amongst researchers. But Washington shot callers weren't always impressed by his egghead credentials. Chu was a vocal advocate of renewable energy projects, and his legacy in the federal government will always be tainted by the Solyndra scandal. Chu helped push to loan $535 million to the Californian solar panel company, even though its ledgers were shady and its financier, George Kaiser, had political ties to the Obama reelection campaign. When Solyndra went bankrupt, House Republicans brought Chu in for a thorough grilling. Department of Energy employees had to resign. The whole thing was a mess.