UPDATE: Barack Obama announced Chu's nomination on 15 December.

The Nobel-prize-winning physicist Steven Chu will be Barack Obama’s nomination for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), according to reports from the US President-elect’s transition team.

Chu, 60, is currently the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and professor of biophysics at University of California, Berkeley. If his nomination is confirmed by the US senate next year, Chu would be the first working scientist to run the DOE, which has a budget of about $25bn and is one of the largest sources of funding of scientific research in the US. Since 2005, the department has been headed by Samuel Bodman, a former professor of chemical engineering who spent many years as a venture capitalist before joining the DOE.

Unlike some in the outgoing Bush administration, Chu is a firm believer that humans are damaging the Earth’s climate. Indeed, he believes that climate change scenarios laid out in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be on the conservative side.

Science for a better environment

Chu also believes that science can play an important role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. He has been involved in the Berkeley-based Energy Biosciences Institute — a $500m facility, sponsored by oil giant BP, that aims to develop new energy sources from biomass, including biofuels.

Born in St Louis, Missouri, Chu did a PhD in physics at Berkeley and shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Phillips "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light" — an accomplishment that has led to a renaissance in the study of the quantum mechanics of many-body systems.

In an interview with Physics World magazine earlier this year, Chu expressed his conviction that scientists could work together to save the environment: “Just as in the Second World War, when there were scientists who worked on radar or the bomb because they felt there was an emergency, so there are scientists today who want to work on the energy problem”.