June 26, 2023 –John Goodenough, the world’s oldest Nobel Prize winner who played a crucial role in developing the lithium-ion battery, has died at the age of 100.
He passed away on Sunday, according to the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked as an engineering professor.
“John’s legacy as a brilliant scientist is immeasurable,” said University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell.
Lithium-ion batteries power millions of electric vehicles around the globe.
The University of Texas described him as a “dedicated public servant, a sought-after mentor and a brilliant yet humble inventor”.
Dr Goodenough was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2019 at the age of 97 for his work on batteries, including the development of the lithium-ion battery.
The lightweight, powerful battery sparked a revolution in technology, paving the way for modern portable electronics such as laptops and mobile phones. The batteries also play a critical role in powering larger modern devices, including solar panels.
Born in Germany in 1922 to American parents, Dr Goodenough grew up in the north-eastern US and served in the US army as a meteorologist during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University, as well as a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago.
He was married to Irene Wiseman, who passed away in 2016.
His discoveries “improved the lives of billions of people around the world”, Mr Hartzell said. “He was a leader at the cutting edge of scientific research throughout the many decades of his career, and he never ceased searching for innovative energy-storage solutions.”
Dr Goodenough started his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked for 24 years and helped develop random-access memory for the computer.
There, he became one of the founders of the modern theory of magnetism, which has played a pivotal role in the field of telecommunications.
Asked by the BBC’s John Humphrys in 2016 what it was like to know that his discoveries had changed the way humans live, Dr Goodenough said he did not “think about it too much”.
“I’m very gratified that I’ve provided something for the people of this world,” he said. He joked at the time that he himself did not have a mobile phone because he did not like to be “bothered”.
The professor was known for his quick wit and “infectious laugh”, according to the University of Texas. “That laugh could be heard reverberating through UT engineering buildings,” the University said.
Recently, Dr Goodenough and his team at the University of Texas had been researching new ways of storing energy, including via a battery made of glass.