Former Energy Secretary Receives Honorary Doctorate, Delivers Lecture at University

Steven Chu receives honorary degree
UMass Lowell presented Nobel laureate and former U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during a ceremony at University Crossing.


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LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell has presented its highest honor to Nobel laureate and former U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu for his contributions to the pursuits of clean energy and solutions to climate change.

Chu, former U.S. secretary of energy and a scientist who holds several patents, was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney during a ceremony with students, faculty and staff at the University Crossing student center on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

“Dr. Steven Chu’s lifetime commitment to tackling our world’s energy and climate-change challenges is something the UMass Lowell community strives to emulate,” Moloney said. “His presence on campus today reinforces to our faculty researchers the importance of the work they are conducting to help create a sustainable society and demonstrates to our students that they, too, can make a difference.”

Following the presentation of the honorary degree, Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, delivered UMass Lowell’s annual Tripathy Memorial Lecture on “Climate Change and a Path to Clean Energy.” In it, Chu laid out alarming trends in carbon emissions, sea-level rise and global temperatures, noting that although the consequences of these phenomena may not be felt for generations, they will nonetheless be dire.

“There is compelling evidence that Earth’s climate is changing and humans are responsible for it. We only have one chance at correcting it and we have to do it,” he said.

As the nation’s energy secretary, Chu recruited top scientists and engineers to the U.S. Department of Energy and launched several initiatives to support research and innovation in clean energy. In 2010, President Obama tasked Chu with helping BP end the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Prior to his cabinet appointment, Chu was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a faculty member in physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, headed the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories and served on the physics faculty of Stanford University.

In 2013, Chu returned to academia and Stanford, where he serves as the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities and Sciences and a professor of molecular and cellular physiology in the university’s medical school. He has published more than 250 academic papers on atomic and polymer physics, laser spectroscopy, biophysics, batteries and more. Chu – who holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley – is a member of groups including the National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology.

“UMass Lowell is committed to climate neutrality and has made sustainable education, research and innovation a priority. Sustainability is part of our UMass Lowell 2020 strategic plan and we have established a Climate Action Plan to guide our efforts,” Moloney said.

This work is yielding results in UMass Lowell laboratories and across campus. Led by UMass Lowell Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Julie Chen, university faculty members are advancing initiatives in solar and wind energy, biodegradable polymers and biofuels, among others. As the university has grown enrollment by more than 50 percent since 2007, it has taken important steps such as increasing recycling by 200 percent, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and constructing and renovating university buildings that are energy-efficient and have a low overall impact on the environment. For its work, the university has been recognized with several honors, including the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s STARS gold rating, and is nationally ranked as a “Green School” by the Princeton Review.

The Tripathy Memorial Lecture was established to honor the late Sukant Tripathy, a pioneer in fields including nanotechnology and polymers who was a professor of chemistry and provost at UMass Lowell. The program annually invites top researchers to campus to speak about important issues in science and technology.

UMass Lowell will award several other honorary degrees at the university’s Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 13 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,500 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.