“Working was his driving force,” recalls collaborator Maria Helena Braga of the University of Porto. Braga worked closely with Goodenough in Texas from 2016–19 and continued to stay in touch after she returned to Portugal full-time. She last saw Goodenough in early 2022.
Based at UT Austin since 1986, Goodenough grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and went to Yale University for his undergraduate degree. He gained a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and completed graduate studies in physics at the University of Chicago.
His career then began at the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developing magnetic materials for computer memory storage, before Goodenough moved to the United Kingdom. There, he was head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford from 1976–86.
His lectures to undergraduates at the time were memorably challenging, says Clare Grey, now a battery materials researcher at the University of Cambridge. “He brought his research into his teaching and introduced concepts that are still relevant now,” she recalls.
It was also at Oxford that Goodenough made his Nobel Prize–winning discovery. The key insight was that solid-state oxides could let lithium ions enter and leave easily for repeated charge—discharge cycles without degrading the structure. By combining a lithium–cobalt oxide cathode from his lab with a carbon-based anode, researchers demonstrated that lithium-ion batteries could be a practical form of energy storage.
Braga recalls Goodenough telling her about that work, which famously never generated him any money. It was one of many stories that he would recount to her over the years, often during a break from scientific discussions for some chocolate. There were tales of Goodenough meeting Soviet physicist and Nobel laureate Lev Landau, and of his time in the army during the Second World War, when he was stationed in the Azores off the coast of Portugal, she says.
Goodenough’s military experience also helped him get into graduate school. A Yale professor had included his name in a list of returning veterans that should go to graduate school. “He would say, ‘oh, if I hadn’t gone to the army. . . I would never have made my graduate study,’ ” Braga says.
While Goodenough’s most famous work was on understanding and improving battery materials, his work on fuel-cell materials, magnetism, and magnetoresistance also inspired many researchers, Grey says. “What’s amazing is the legacy he leaves behind,” she says.