MU faculty member's cousin tapped for Energy Department

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 10:59 p.m. CST; updated 11:21 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 26, 2009
Clarence Lo, an associate professor of sociology, gives a lecture at MU's Middlebush Hall on Feb. 25. Lo's first cousin, Steven Chu, has been tapped to become President Barack Obama's Energy secretary.

COLUMBIA — When the son of MU associate professor of sociology Clarence Lo needed help with a high school term paper on alternative energy, Lo knew exactly whom his son should consult. 

Taking his father’s advice, Julian Lo e-mailed recently appointed U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.  While most people might not expect a reply from one of the leading experts in the field, exchanging e-mails with Chu is nothing new for Clarence Lo and his family.

Then again, not everyone is a first cousin of the U.S. Secretary of Energy.

Lo and Chu, along with numerous members of their family, have been keeping in touch for years through an e-mail forwarding list.  Whenever there is important news — about special awards, a wedding or the health status of an older family member— the whole family gets an e-mail.

Lo sees his cousin about once a year at family reunions, which normally take place on the West Coast.  The last time they were together was last August for Chu’s brother’s wedding.

The two cousins also attended graduate school together at the University of California, Berkeley, although their busy schedules did not allow them to see each other much.

When Lo learned of Chu’s nomination for secretary of Energy last January, he reacted in much the same way as when he learned that Chu would share the 1997 Nobel Prize with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips for their work in trapping and cooling atoms with lasers.

“Both of them were unbelievable,” says Lo about the two prestigious honors.  “It’s definitely given us something more to talk about.”

According to an article from, Chu is making history as the first-ever cabinet member to have won a Nobel Prize before entering office.  However, success in the academic realm is nothing new to his family.

“Everyone is connected to the university,” says Lo about his family, which is full of numerous Ph.D. holders and doctors.

Lo credits much of his and Chu’s success to the academic environment established by their parents when they were growing up, despite the national curriculum at the time.

“When I went through elementary school, science wasn’t well-developed.  Few teachers had training in math and science,” Lo said.

Much like his cousin, Lo said, he thinks that educating and establishing an interest of science in younger generations is the best way to bring about future innovations and discoveries.

“Science has really got to influence the public.  That’s why having science curriculum in schools is so important. That’s how you get millions of people informed,” Lo said.

Even though Chu has no experience as a politician, Lo thinks his cousin’s background as a scientist is what the country needs in order to work toward energy independence.

“We’ve got to figure out what the best minds say we should be doing.  It’s a matter of finding ways that those peoples’ knowledge can affect society for the better,” Lo said.

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