Just days before this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Willard Boyle and George Smith for work they performed at Bell Labs, lawmakers dealt a blow to Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s vision of creating “Bell Lab-lets” to tackle key research challenges blocking the way to a carbon-free energy future. Chu, himself a Nobel laureate for physics research he conducted at Bell Labs, will receive just $66 million of the $280 million he had sought this year to establish eight “energy innovation hubs,” centers that he hoped would duplicate many of the features that had made his former employer an engine of innovation and generated several Nobel Prizes in the decades before the 1984 breakup of AT&T.

The final version of the fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Energy (DOE) included just three of the hubs and provided each one with $22 million; Chu had requested...

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