The man behind one of the most important inventions in modern technology won a Nobel Prize on Wednesday. And he just happens to be a Texan.
John Goodenough, a professor at the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering in Austin, was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in developing lithium-ion batteries. At 97, Goodenough is the oldest Nobel laureate in the history of the award.
The German-born engineering professor, who has taught at UT since 1986, was given the Nobel Prize along with British chemist M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University in New York and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University in Japan.
«Live to 97 (years old) and you can do anything,» Goodenough said Wednesday in a 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 identified and developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics, initiating the wireless revolution, the University of Texas said in a statement. Today, Goodenough’s work is put to use worldwide in mobile phones, power tools, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices.
«Billions of people around the world benefit every day from John’s innovations,» UT President Gregory L. Fenves said. «In addition to being a world-class inventor, he’s an outstanding teacher, mentor and researcher. We are grateful for John’s three decades of contributions to UT Austin’s mission.»
Goodenough began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952, where he laid the groundwork for the development of random access memory, or RAM, used in the digital computer. After leaving MIT, he worked as a professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford. It was there that he made his lithium-ion discovery. He retired from Oxford in 1986 to join UT as the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering in the Cockrell School. He holds faculty positions in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering.
Goodenough, who heard the Nobel news while traveling in Europe, spoke to reporters by phone from London, where he was receiving the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. Goodenough said he was «extremely happy» his work has been able to help communications throughout the world.
When asked how he thinks the news will go over with his students and faculty at UT, Goodenough replied, «I hope they still keep me employed.»
Goodenough joins physicist Steven Weinberg as one of two current Nobel laureates at UT. Weinberg won the prize in 1979 for contributions to the theory of unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. Two other UT professors, both deceased, also won Nobel Prizes: Hermann J. Muller in 1946 and Ilya Prigogine in 1977.
Goodenough will receive a medal, cash prize and diploma at a ceremony in Stockholm in December. He and his fellow laureates in chemistry will split the cash award of 9 million Swedish krona, or about $900,000, with Goodenough donating his portion to UT.
The Nobel Prize is the latest accolade for the chemist, who has received numerous national and international honors over his lifetime. Still, when asked what he is most proud of, Goodenough said, «all my friends.»