Goodenough to win: UT professor awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Adrienne Lee & University of Texas | Daily Texan Staff

At 97 years old, John Goodenough is the oldest person to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

On Oct. 9, the UT engineering professor, along with Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University, State University of New York, and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the development of lithium-ion batteries.

A statement from the Nobel Prize committee credits the scientists’ work with lithium-ion batteries as being responsible for creating “the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society.”

“I’m extremely happy if my battery has been able to help communication to the world,” Goodenough said. “We need to build relationships, laws, and we are indeed happy that people use this for good and not for evil.”

In 1986, Goodenough began working at UT. He is currently the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering and works as a professor in the departments of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering.

Sharon Wood, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, said while she likes to think the school makes a difference, the award is proof that Goodenough’s work is truly world-changing.

“This shows the work that he’s been doing for decades has really changed the way everyone in the world lives,” Wood said. “We wouldn’t have cell phones and our mobile devices, we wouldn’t have electric vehicles without the lithium battery Goodenough developed.”

Goodenough currently studies battery materials and the relationships between the chemical, structural and electrical properties of solids. He said he will be donating his share of the prize money to the University “to support the people who work there.”

Arumugam Manthiram, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said he’s learned about Goodenough’s goals of bettering society and science after having him as a colleague for the past 34 years.

“He is a gentleman,” Manthiram said. “He treats everybody (kindly), regardless of title or job, even people on the street. He’s always a very nice person. Talking to him is intellectually stimulating.”

Gregory Fenves, UT President and former dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, said the global and local benefits from Goodenough’s work more than qualifies him for the award.

“In addition to being a world-class inventor, he’s an outstanding teacher, mentor and researcher,” Fenves said. “We are grateful for John’s three decades of contributions to UT-Austin’s mission.”

Jianshi Zhou, research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering said even though they had been preparing for this award for a long time, it was still a big surprise.

“To me, this is way overdue,” Zhou said. “His work on the lithium battery has been done back in the 1980s.”

Zhou said Goodenough has also done pioneering work in the area of magnetism and said he deserves to win another prize in physics in the near future.

Goodenough said he hopes his field will continue to make strides in increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road to combat global warming.

“It won’t necessarily be my work,” Goodenough said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of good work all over the world. We need to get the burning of fossil fuels off the highways and seaways of the world.”