John B. Goodenough: The Brilliant Mind Behind the Revolutionary Lithium-Ion Battery
The legacy of the “father of lithium-ion batteries” lives on.
John Bannister Goodenough is generally considered one of the fathers of the lithium-ion battery. Goodenough died on June 25, 2023, just short of his 101st birthday.
John Goodenough. Image used courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin
He was a pioneer in the field of materials science, a solid-state physicist, and a Nobel laureate in chemistry. And his work on the development of lithium-ion batteries provides the enabling technology to move away from fossil fuels as the world battles climate change.
Goodenough was born in Jena, Germany, to American parents. He got his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Yale University (1944) while serving in the United States Army Air Forces as a meteorologist. After the war, he earned a master's and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago (1952).
Following his graduation, Goodenough moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in 1952. He worked there for 24 years and, during that time, his research laid the groundwork for developing random-access memory (RAM) for digital computers. Studying a wide range of topics, Goodenough’s work in orbital physics also led to the modern theory of magnetism, which developed into the Goodenough-Kanamori Rules that guide the research of magnetic materials.
Goodenough moved from MIT to become a professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford in England. It was during this time, continuing the work of M. Stanley Whittingham on battery chemistry, that he made the discoveries leading to the lithium-ion battery.
A New Type of Battery
In 1980, Goodenough developed a new type of lithium battery using cobalt oxide as the cathode. This battery had a much higher voltage than previous lithium batteries, making it more efficient and powerful. Goodenough's discovery was a major breakthrough in the energy storage field. It led to the development of lithium-ion batteries now used in various electronic devices like laptops, smartphones, and electric vehicles (EVs).
Lithium batteries used in electronic devices like laptops, ipads, and smartphones. Image used courtesy of Pexels
In 1986, he moved to the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a mechanical, materials science, and electrical engineering professor.
In 1991, Sony Corp. commercialized the lithium-ion battery, for which Goodenough had provided the basic research that resulted in the company’s prototype.
For his work on lithium-ion batteries, Goodenough shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino. Goodenough is the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize and was the oldest Nobel laureate at the time of his death. He was also awarded the National Medal of Science (2011), the Charles Stark Draper Prize (2014), and the Copley Medal (2019).
Humble and Brilliant
Goodenough, who continued to work in his laboratory well into his 90s, was described by his UT Austin colleagues as a legendary researcher, mentor, and highly regarded teacher. Most recently, his work has involved solid-state batteries, using glass and ceramic electrolytes that dramatically improved the power and energy densities of lithium and sodium-based batteries.
According to UT Provost Sharon L. Wood, he leaves a lasting legacy that will inspire generations of future innovators and researchers.