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Materials

Goodenough wins 2017 Welch Award

Texas researcher recognized for pioneering work in lithium-ion batteries

by Mitch Jacoby
September 13, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 37

Goodenough
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Credit: U Texas, Austin
Credit: U Texas, Austin

At an age when most people have long stopped working, John B. Goodenough, 95, is still going strong. Goodenough, who holds the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, is recognized worldwide as the inventor of the commercially successful rechargeable lithium-ion battery—the workhorse that powers most portable electronic devices, as well as electric automobiles.

For his “contributions to chemistry and humankind,” the battery pioneer will receive the 2017 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry and $500,000 in prize money.

Through research conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Goodenough demonstrated that lithium cobalt oxide could serve as the cathode in a long-lived rechargeable battery that packed a lot of energy into a small, lightweight package. Coupled with a lithium-intercalated graphite anode, Goodenough’s battery was a hit with manufacturers of portable electronic devices.

The Texas researcher continues to investigate battery materials, probing their structures and electronic properties, in addition to the electrochemical and solid-state chemical reactions they undergo.

Earlier this year, for example, Goodenough and coworkers reported that encasing the ceramic electrolyte layer in a sodium-ion battery with a thin polymer film impeded unwanted, dangerous electrochemical reactions. The hazards associated with those reactions have slowed development of rechargeable sodium-ion batteries, which could offer a less expensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

“There’s no more fitting candidate for this award,” says Clare P. Grey a rechargeable battery specialist at the University of Cambridge.

Grey, who took courses taught by Goodenough when she was an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, notes that Goodenough “inspired so many disparate fields” with his seminal work on fuel-cell materials, magnetism, and giant and colossal magnetoresistance.

Goodenough’s book, “Magnetism and the Chemical Bond,” written in 1961, remains a classic on magnetic interactions in transition metal oxides, Grey says. It is still an important textbook for researchers working on electronic and magnetic properties of materials.

Grey adds, “John has been an inspiration to all of us.”

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