UT professor, 97, wins Nobel Prize
John B. Goodenough, 2 others honored for lithiumion discoveries
AUSTIN — At 97 years old, University of Texas Professor John B. Goodenough is still filling the world with his energy.
Goodenough in the 1970s developed the lithiumion battery, a rechargeable battery that paved the way for portable electronics and that still powers laptops, cellphones and electric cars. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for this invention along with Akira Yoshino, 71, and M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, who cocreated the battery with Goodenough while at the University of Oxford.
Goodenough, a Germanborn engineering professor who has taught at UT since 1986, is now the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize. Arthur Ashkin, 96, was awarded the physics prize last year.
“Live to 97 and you can do anything,” Goodenough said in a prepared statement. “I’m honored and humbled to win the Nobel prize. I thank all my
friends for the support and assistance throughout my life.”
Goodenough, who heard the news Wednesday while on a London trip to receive the Copley Medal from the Royal Society, told reporters he was surprised.
“I’ve had an interesting career, and I don’t know if it was by chance or grace,” he said with a laugh.
But his contributions are no joke. The Nobel Foundation said Goodenough, Yoshino and Whittingham’s work “created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuelfree society, and so brought the greatest benefit to humankind.”
Yoshino praised Goodenough for continuing his research despite his age. Goodenough and his UT team identified a new, safe material for use in sodiumion batteries just two years ago.
These batteries can store up to three times more power than current ones and charge within minutes without exploding.
Goodenough said he will give his share of the Nobel prize money to support the ongoing work at UT Austin. He and his cocreators will be awarded about $981,000 in total.
Batteries have come a long way thanks to Goodenough, but he said they have their limitations and he hopes fellow scientists will continue working on more efficient ways to power cars.
“In the next decade, I certainly hope we will have some more electric vehicles,” he said. “There are a lot of people doing good work, but we need to get the burning of fossil fuels off the highways and speedways of the world, so that we’ ll step up on global warming.”
Goodenough already had a storied career before winning the premier prize.
While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in 1952, he laid the groundwork for the development of randomaccess memory (RAM) for computers. He then became the head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford, where he made the lithiumion discovery. He has also won the National Medal of Science and various international honors.
But Goodenough said his proudest accomplishments are his friendships, and he is happy his contribution to the wireless revolution brought people closer.
“I’m extremely happy to be able to work to build communications throughout the world,” he said. “We need to build relationships, not walls. We will be happy if people use this for good and not for evil.”
Yoshino said that he has visited Goodenough in Texas almost every year.
“For him, I’m like his son,” Yoshino said. “He takes very good care of me.”
Goodenough said when he returns to the University of Texas from London, he won’t be ready to stop working.
“I hope they keep me employed,” he joked.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves said the university is grateful for Goodenough’s contributions to UT’S mission of changing the world. The university planned to light the UT Tower in his honor.
“Billions of people around the world benefit every day from John’s innovations,” Fenves said in a prepared statement. “In addition to being a worldclass inventor, he’s an outstanding teacher, mentor and researcher.”
At 97, Univeristy of Texas professor John. B. Goodenough is the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize.