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Drive a Tesla or use a smartphone? You can thank UT professor John Goodenough for that

(The University of Texas at Austin)

The lithium-ion battery industry, a multi-billion sector that shapes our everyday lives with its use in products like phones and EVs, came to be what it is now due to a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.


John B. Goodenough has more than lived up to his name. He turned 100 years old in July, after a distinguished career in which he did foundational work for world-changing industries, and won the Nobel prize in chemistry along the way.

He came to UT in 1986 after a decade at the University of Oxford. While in England, he was a professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, where he made the lithium-ion battery discovery.

It was also during this time at Oxford that Goodenough met Arumugam Manthiram, who has long seen Goodenough as a role model.

“I heard of the chance to work with him in 1985 and that entirely changed my life,” Manthiram said. “In other words, if I did not have that opportunity to go and work with him in 1985, I wouldn't be what I am now.”

Now, with a group of about 35 students and postdoctoral fellows, Manthiram researches battery safety and lifespan at UT.

Manthiram says this research explores how we might be able to bring down battery costs, increase driving range and prevent toxicity when manufacturing the batteries. It’s an area of work Goodenough is still curious about, and talked to Manthiram about earlier this week.

“When we were talking three times he asked me, ‘Are we getting good results?’” Manthiram said. “Meaning, are we getting good results from our research data?”

Manthiram went on to note how Goodenough still isn’t retired and maintains an enthusiastic outlook.

“Even at 100 years old, he still thinks, ‘are we getting good results?’” Manthiram said.

Born to American parents in Jena, Germany in 1922, Goodenough built up years of expertise before Oxford and UT. During World War II, he was a meteorologist in the US Army. After that, he attended the University of Chicago, where he received a doctorate in physics in 1952.

Still, the detail that he’s most known for is the development of the rechargeable battery given its massive impact on how we function today and its key role in shaping the transportation industry and inviting cleaner energy.

“It has revolutionized our lifestyle,” Manthiram said. “And it is part of our daily life. And that was made possible because of the batteries which are lighter and store more energy so that we can use them for a longer time.”

Given the impact of the rechargeable battery, it was only fitting that UT hosted a birthday symposium to honor Goodenough’s achievements, inviting other world-renowned scientists and guests from the U.S. Department of Energy.

But it’s not only his scientific discoveries that make Goodenough a person drawing so much celebration.

“He is a great scientist, I think everybody knows, but he's also a great human being,” Manthiram said.

Manthiram says he’s generous, thoughtful and unassuming, and it’s all shown in the way he carries himself even in a field he’s a pioneer in.

“When we discuss science or engineering, many times, he will say, ‘I want to learn,’” Manthiram said. “That tells you that he doesn't assume that he knows everything. He has an open mind and he's willing to discuss with the people to understand more.”

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