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Paul Chu: Physics Pioneer, Marketing Icon

Guest Posts, University Archives

Alexander Rodriguez, undergraduate student from the University of Chicago, takes a look at Professor Paul Chu’s presence in university marketing initiatives.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk (UH Photographs Collection, University of Houston Special Collections)

University of Houston (UH) Professor Paul Chu is a known name both on- and off-campus. In 1987, Chu and his team made breakthroughs in the field of superconductivity, developing materials that could conduct electricity with zero resistance at temperatures reachable with liquid nitrogen. This discovery kicked off a wave of excitement in the scientific community and put the university’s Department of Physics at the leading edge of this research.

In the late 1990s, UH’s Division of Marketing and Communications commissioned the production of 30-second television commercials for prospective students, starring university faculty with their work. One of these focuses on Chu, with shots of him with lab equipment demonstrating the materials developed in his lab. With floating magnets and nitrogen plumes aplenty, the clip is an effective counterargument to any high schooler who says physics can’t be cool.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu (UH Marketing and Communications Records, University of Houston Special Collections)

Elsewhere, Chu and his research team garner mention from voices outside the university. In a compilation of news clips from November 2001, several television and radio stations reported on Dr. Chu’s move to Hong Kong to lead a research department there. True to the era, the reporters excitedly mention that he will continue to lead his UH research department through a technology known as “e-mail.” The similarity of the reporting across different channels indicates the use of a standardized press release, likely crafted by UH Marketing and Communications, to package the facts for news stations to add directly into their report.

These items, part of a Special Collections acquisition of UH Marketing and Communications Records this year, demonstrate the way the university showcases its faculty and their research as an asset for its image. The message for the public is that the work done here is not only research worth continuing but also the knowledge that has an impact on the lives of people outside academia and merits sharing. These outreach efforts establish the University of Houston as an institution on the forefront of science, attracting the next generation of bright minds to enroll and be a part of the spirit of innovation at the university.

Check out the full Marketing and Communications collection in the archival catalog here. More information about Chu and his research can be found elsewhere in Special Collections, including newspaper clippings in the Faculty Vita Records.

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