Steve Chu's Very Lucky (Birth) Day

U.S. Department of Energy

What a way to celebrate your 64th birthday—and your 15th wedding anniversary. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today spent part of this morning chatting with Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates before a friendly crowd of several hundred people in a vast hotel ballroom. A few hours later he was being grilled by members of Congress about the Department of Energy's (DOE's) 2013 spending plans, but the rhetorical heat was pretty mild.

"My wife decided I'd be less likely to forget our anniversary if it was on my birthday," he told ScienceInsider after the desultory clash with members of the House Appropriations Committee over spending priorities, gas prices, and plans for the recently-abandoned Yucca mountain nuclear waste depository in Nevada. "But she forgot that I also forget my birthday."

The morning session with Gates, at a DOE-sponsored conference on energy research and development, was something of a love fest, with Gates calling for a doubling of federal spending on energy research and a supportive crowd applauding some of Chu's comments.

At the afternoon hearing, Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA) was critical of some of Chu's spending plans, but he wasn't about to let the Nobel Prize-winning physicist forget the importance of the day before Leap Day. After noting that Jean Fetter, Chu's wife, holds a graduate physics degree from the University of Oxford and has served as a dean at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Lewis opined that "it's got to be interesting to hear what you guys talk about."

Chu didn't response to Lewis's observation, but he did smile when Representative Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who was running the show, told Chu that he was cutting the hearing short so that committee members could vote on the House floor. "This is your lucky day, your birthday and your anniversary," Frelinghuysen told Chu. "We have some votes and we will not reconvene, so you will not have to return."