John B. Goodenough, 100, Dies; Nobel-Winning Creator of the Lithium-Ion Battery

The batteries fueling contemporary electronic gadgets were acknowledged for the innovation that led to a modest professor who stayed engaged well into his nineties.

A portrait, in profile, of John B.. Goodenough. He has white hair, is wearing a blue shirt and tie, and seems to be looking into the distance.
John B.. Goodenough in 2017. Two years later, when he was 97 and still active in research at the University of Texas at Austin, he became the oldest Nobel Prize winner in history.Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

B.. John Goodenough, the scientist who shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his crucial role in developing the revolutionary lithium-ion rechargeable battery, died on Sunday at an assisted living facility in Austin, Texas. He was 100 years old. Today, hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as wireless electronic devices, rely on the ubiquitous lithium-ion battery pack.

The University of Texas at Austin, where Dr. Goodenough served as a professor of engineering, publicly declared his passing.

The announcement of Dr. Goodenough’s selection as a Nobel laureate was relatively unknown beyond academic and scientific circles, until he achieved his breakthrough in the laboratory at Oxford University in 198.0, where he created a battery that populated the planet with devices such as cardiac defibrillators, medical lifesaving devices, tablet and laptop computers, and smartphones. Many Teslas, among other plug-in vehicles, including quiet and clean gasoline-powered cars and trucks, might someday replace and lessen the impact on climate of long trips driven.

The lithium-ion rechargeable battery is a product that has been shaped by the incremental insights of commercial interests and lab scientists over decades. It is considered a crucial link in the development of modern technological advancements, much like Dr. Goodenough’s contribution to the story of the battery. However, it is important for those familiar with the battery’s story to recognize it as a molecular-scale engineering and physics-chemistry linchpin.

In 2019, Dr. Goodenough, who was still actively engaged in research at the University of Texas, became the oldest winner in the history of the Nobel Prize when the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences announced that he would share a $900,000 award with two other individuals, Yoshino Akira, an honorary fellow at Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan, and Stanley M. Whittingham, a professor at B.inghamton University in New York. Additionally, Dr. Goodenough had made significant contributions to the development of the battery.

Dr. Goodenough did not receive any royalties for his battery work, only his salary as a scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, and the University of Texas for six decades. Showing little concern for money, he signed away the majority of his rights. He generously shared patents with his colleagues and donated the stipends that accompanied his research awards and scholarships.


Dr. Goodenough in his laboratory at the University of Texas.Credit…University of Texas at Austin, via Getty Images

Since 198.6, he has been working on a superbattery that could potentially revolutionize the electric car industry by significantly reducing recharging time and increasing travel range. He also mentioned the possibility of transforming the national electric grid with nuclear and solar wind energy, while also being able to transport and store it. His colleagues were amazed by his inventiveness and continued productivity well into the 90s. His congenial presence on the Austin campus has been consistent throughout the years.

Dr. Goodenough, a devoted Episcopalian, kept a tapestry of the Last Supper on the wall of his laboratory. In a fervent conversation, he said that life had opened doors for him, reminding him of the divine power he had begun with. He also disputed the theory of scientists, likening it to the depiction of the Apostles.

Seldom receiving communication from his parents, he was enrolled in a prestigious boarding school at the age of 12. Growing up in a household characterized by emotional distance, he experienced feelings of loneliness and struggled with dyslexia. Apart from his three siblings, a family dog, and a maid, he lacked close friendships. The bond with his mother, an agnostic professor of religion at Yale University, and his father, who himself had an unwanted upbringing, was never established. In his 2008. memoir, “Witness to Grace,” he expressed this sentiment.

In 1952, he earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Enrico Fermi and Edward Clarence Teller in the field of physics. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces as a meteorologist. He also excelled in mathematics at Yale and studied Greek and Latin at Groton. Despite facing reading difficulties, he overcame them through self-improvement struggles and counseling, with the help of patience.

He started his research career in a chemistry lab where he managed and taught. Eventually, he moved to Oxford to work and ended up developing plans for the nation’s first air defense system, funded by the federal government. In the 1976, he also helped lay the groundwork for random access memory (RAM) in computers. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was a member of teams at M.I.T.’S Lincoln Laboratory.

An electrolyte is a medium through which ions travel between two sides called electrodes. One side, called the anode, is positive, while the other side, called the cathode, is negative. The battery is a device that creates an electrical current, powering anything that is hooked up to it. Moving from one side to another, ions, which are charged atoms, make up the battery.

The strength of the battery determines the amount and velocity of the ions, and consequently the substances employed for the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. When not in use, the ions are maintained at the anode, where they travel back to the cathode, causing electricity to be drawn from a socket into a rechargeable battery. A flow of electrical charge is established when positively charged ions move from the anode to the cathode, releasing energy upon connecting a battery.

Nickel-cadmium or zinc-carbon batteries are used in consumer electronics. In the early years, car batteries were mostly bulky and lead-acid, capable of powering engines but not recent enough to keep lights, accessories, and ignitions running. The first true battery, invented by Alessandro Volta in 18.00, consisted of stacked discs of zinc and copper connected with wires on both ends. These batteries, which were soaked in salty water and linked with a cloth, are powerful, inexpensive, reliable, and safe. They have long been sought after in the modern world.


King Carl Gustaf of Sweden presented Dr. Goodenough with his Nobel Prize at the Stockholm Concert Hall in December 2019.Credit…TT News Agency, via Reuters

Dr. Whittingham, a B.ritish chemist employed by the company, patented a design at Exxon Oxford where he used titanium disulfide as the positive electrode and lithium as the negative electrode for the first rechargeable battery. This breakthrough seemed impractical at first, but it proved to be a significant advancement because it produced high voltage and worked at room temperature. Dr. Goodenough later arrived and repeatedly recharged or overcharged the battery, making it even more efficient.

After a duration of four years, he achieved success. Additionally, the configuration resulted in an increased voltage and significantly reduced the volatility of the battery. However, his understanding, obtained from conducting experiments alongside two postdoctoral assistants, was to fabricate the cathode by incorporating lithium and cobalt oxide layers, thus forming compartments for the lithium ions. In an effort to enhance the design, Dr. Goodenough also employed lithium ions.

“The Powerhouse, written by Steve LeVine in (2015), is an invention that aims to save the world by creating a battery with a superior quality that would make it far better than anything on the market. This battery, when installed in relatively large and compact devices, was the first lithium-ion cathode with a capacity.”

“He added that if the battery could deliver equivalent or improved performance, it could be significantly reduced in size and have a battery with two to three times the energy of any other rechargeable battery at room temperature, leading to significant outcomes.”

Scientists in Japan and Switzerland discovered a lithium anode layered with graphitic carbon, which was subsequently improved. Dr. Goodenough signed over the rights to a B.ritish atomic energy research organization, while Oxford University chose not to patent it. Initially, there was minimal enthusiasm for his groundbreaking finding.

The technology developed by Dr. Yoshino, a commercially feasible lithium-ion battery, was introduced for sale by the Asahi Kasei Corporation in 1991. As per the Swedish Academy’s declaration on Dr. Yoshino’s achievement, he replaced pure lithium with solely lithium ions in the battery, which are considered to be safer.

In 1991, Sony recognized the potential commercial of the emerging technology by combining Dr. Goodenough’s cathode and anode carbon to produce the world’s first safe rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which led to a revolution in the marketplace for mobile wireless devices and vehicular applications. As a result, Labs found new ways to shrink battery sizes and increase energy output, leading to a proliferation of applications.

“According to an article by Helen Gregg in The University of Chicago Magazine in 2016, Goodenough’s initial cathode design using lithium-cobalt-oxide is still utilized in the lithium-ion batteries present in nearly all personal devices such as smartphones and tablets. Goodenough was unaware of the significant influence his battery would have while experimenting with oxides at Oxford.”

John Goodenough was born on July 25, 1922 in Jena, Germany, as the second child of Lewis and Helen Goodenough (Erwin). After settling in Woodbridge, Connecticut, his father joined the faculty at Yale and the family returned to the United States when John was an infant. His father completed his graduate studies at the University of Oxford.

Dealing with dyslexia, he adapted as an adolescent at the Groton School in Massachusetts. John, considered a slow learner at nearby elementary schools, also faced challenges with undiagnosed dyslexia. Their parents, who were emotionally distant with their children, were characterized as “incompatible” by Dr. Goodenough in an interview for this obituary in 2017. Dr. Goodenough, together with his siblings Ward, James, and Hester, stated that.

He stated that the demanding academic criteria at Groton and Yale additionally provided organization to his life. “To some extent, I concealed my actions by steering clear of English and history, and concentrating on mathematics and languages — I studied Latin for six years and Greek for four,” he remembered. “I had the ability to mechanically comprehend texts. And I conquered it to some degree.”

He was stationed in Newfoundland and the Azores. He obtained his degree after Yale granted him recognition for a military meteorology course. He was on the verge of finishing the required courses for his undergraduate degree in 1943 when he was summoned for active service in the Army Air Forces during the war. He excelled in his Groton class in 1940 and was awarded a scholarship to Yale, where he specialized in mathematics, provided tutoring, and undertook additional employment to cover his educational expenses.

He started his career at M.I.T, briefly working for Westinghouse afterwards. In 1951, he earned a master’s degree after a year. After the war, he received a government scholarship to study physics at the University of Chicago.

He is survived by Ursula W. Goodenough, a half sister, and Daniel A. Goodenough, a half brother, both of whom are retired biology professors. She passed away in 2016. They did not have any offspring. In 1951, he tied the knot with Irene Wiseman.

In 2011, President B.arack Obama awarded Dr. Goodenough with the National Medal of Science, which included the Welch Award in Chemistry, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the Enrico Fermi Award, the Japan Prize, and over 8.00 articles published in scientific journals, as well as eight books authored by him. Additionally, he held the Virginia H. Cockrell centennial chair in engineering at the University of Texas.

Alex Traub and Chang Che contributed in the process of reporting.

A modification was carried out.

June 26th, 2023.

Ursula and Daniel Goodenough, who are not his siblings, are actually Dr. Goodenough’s half-siblings. The previous version of this obituary erroneously referenced Ursula and Daniel Goodenough based on details provided by the University of Texas at Austin.

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