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It Starts with Science...


Secretary Chu sits down with a journalism student at Carnegie Mellon's Education City campus in Qatar to discuss the value of science in education and what attracted him to the study of Physics.
Secretary Steven Chu, Thouria Mahmoud
Energy Department Video

THOURIA MAHMOUD:  And I’m a student in Northwestern in Qatar, a sophomore in journalism.

And now we’re in Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, and I’m talking to Mr. Secretary.

If you had any advice for students who are, like, looking forward to pursue any science major, what would you tell them?

SECRETARY OF ENERGY STEVEN CHU:  In universities they call a liberal arts education something where, with a good education, you’re actually learning to teach yourself in the future, right, how to think critically, how to read a book, how to look at things in a way that you’re not force-fed – Is this true? This isn’t – to think for yourself.

Well, I think physics was the best liberal arts education I could have ever had.  With a physics degree, you actually have a strong, rigorous mathematical training.  And later in my scientific career, I got interested in other areas, in polymer science, in biology.  A lot of the things I’m doing – now doing impact on chemistry. 

And in all those things where I went into a new area, I never mentally thought:  Well, oh, I cannot ever understand biology or polymer physics or things like that, because of this very rigorous mathematical training.  I am terrible with memorizing things, and that’s another reason why I went into physics.  I – you don’t have to memorize very many things.  A few basic principles, you figure it all out.

Now, having said all that, studying science is very hard.  When I was a student, in high school and in college, it – I had to work very hard.  These are foreign ideas to me, and I – and I really had to work very hard.  It didn’t come naturally.  And – but I worked very hard at the beginning and then afterwards it came much, much easier to me because it – I learned it well enough in – when I was an undergraduate student that by the time I was a graduate student, they’d just teach the same course over and over again, until you – and hope that you get it. 

It’s like sports.  Do you – do you do sports?

MS. MAHMOUD:  I’m in – I’m in the basketball team.

SEC. CHU:  Oh, good. 

Now you might have been a natural athlete, but sometimes you have to, you know, run and train and do drills, and is that fun?  Well, not really.  Right?


SEC. CHU:  But it makes you a better player, and that exercise and those – the training routines actually make it, in the end, more enjoyable. 

MS. MAHMOUD:  It does.



SEC. CHU:  Because you know you’re getting better, and you feel good about yourself because you’re getting better. 

So in all studies, no matter whether it’s humanities or sciences or social sciences, there’s a certain amount of discipline and training that, when you get better, you feel much better about yourself and more excited about it, because you did all that hard work.