6 i •
everyday in his laboratory and being constantly encircled by
spectometers, beakers and test tubes, internationally — famed UH physicist Dr. Ching-Wu
Paul Chu says he is still in touch with reality.
Wearing a light blue shirt with tattered blue
jeans and a pair of discolored brown suede shoes,
Chu says his notoriety hasn't changed his lifestyle or values any. It has merely made him less
egotistical he says.
"Basically, I'm still the same old person wearing the same dirty coats," Chu says with a laugh.
"But now, I can no longer be as selfish as I used
to. Now, I have to give time to the community at
In December, 1986, Chu announced to his colleagues that he was on the threshold of something big. He told them he had significantly
raised superconducting temperatures above
their existing levels. In later months, he reported
surpassing his earlier accomplishment, which
made Chu a celebrity.
Discovered in 1911 by Dutch scientist Heike
Onnes, superconductivity is the ability to transport electrical current at increased temperatures
with no resistance. But until Chu's advancements, scientists had made minimal progress.
They had only been successful in raising the
temperatures at which superconductivitity occurs by 19 degrees — to 23 degrees from 4 degrees Kelvin.
Chu, however, succeeded in raising temperatures as high as 98 degrees from 4 degrees
"I try not to change," he says, "because my
hope is that no one will remember me as a bastard."
Born in Hunan, China in 1941, Chu says he
initially wanted to become a physicist because
the Chinese government encouraged it. "The
I try not
my hope is
that no one
will remember me as a.
days when I grew
up, the economic
conditions in China
were quite bad, and so many of the young kids
were told that the way to get the country rich was
to go into science," he says.
But it wasn't until he and his family moved to
Taiwan in his early childhood that his own personal interest in science developed.
After receiving a bachelor of science degree
from Chenkung University in 1962, he decided to
continue his training. However, his plans were
interupted when he was drafted into the Nationalist Chinese air force. But after serving one
year in the military as a second lieutenant, he
emigrated to the United States to attend
Fordham University in the Bronx.
"I came as a foreign student for education because I felt I could do more in this country," Chu
says. In 1974, he received his citizenship.
A forerunner for the 1987 Nobel Prize in physics, Chu says he first began his superconductivity research 24 *years ago, when he was a
graduate student at the University of California
in San Diego. He says he was interested in superconductivity because it presented him with a
"It was an intellectual challenge because it has
some very exciting problems, which to understand them takes a lot of effort. It's like a puzzle.
Then it has quick, technological potential because if you can get the temperature high
enough, you can make use of this material for
Loose papers, books and manuscripts cover
the floors and tops of his desks. Bookshelves
burst open with knowledge, standing as a monument for Chu's dedication and persistence.
Although it took almost a quarter of a century
for his hard work to pay off, Chu says he never
felt like giving up.
"Three years ago I told my group that this is a
296 ■ Issues