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MercuryNews.com : Energy Secretary Steven Chu steps down

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a well-known figure in Silicon Valley, announced Friday that he is stepping down from President Obama’s cabinet and is “eager to return to California” and an academic life of teaching and research.

With Chu’s departure, which had been expected for some time, Washington will lose its most prominent geek. A vocal advocate of clean technology and nuclear power, Chu strongly represented the role of science in combating global climate change.

But Chu’s tenure was not without controversy. The Energy Department’s support of Solyndra, the Fremont solar manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy, became a political lightening rod and the poster child for the failings of federal stimulus funds. Chu, a researcher and academic by training, faced tough questions during high-profile Solyndra hearings held by House Republicans.

In Silicon Valley, however, many credited Chu, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics who previously ran the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with bringing science back to the forefront after years of neglect during the Bush administration.

“The fact that science matters again is one of Chu’s biggest accomplishments,” said Steve Vasallo, a partner at Foundation Capitol in Menlo Park. “He elevated science and technology and the importance of doing the math. As technologists and engineers, that’s great. Chalk one up for the nerds.”

In a lengthy farewell letter to DOE employees, Chu stressed that he has been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who urged America to judge people “by the content of their character.”

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