Not Age

John Goodenough was born in 1922 to American parents living in Germany at the time. He came from an academic family. His father and all of his siblings had careers in academia as did John. John received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. His academic achievements were not hindered by his dyslexia. He had very little connection with his parents and led a lonely life.

Dr. Goodenough served as a meteorologist during World War II after getting his BS degree. After the war, he continued his education. When he completed his Ph.D., he became a research scientist at MIT. While at MIT, he was part of a team developing random access to magnetic memory (RAM).

It was his work at the University of Oxford that led to changing the world. At the time he began his investigations, batteries were bulky and dangerous. They were used in cars to run ignitions and lights/radios and other accessories. But they weren’t able to power cars. Consumer electronics batteries also had a number of limitations.

Another scientist had developed a lithium battery but it had a number of problems that made it impractical. Dr. Goodnight and two graduate students provided a breakthrough in the use of lithium batteries after four years of work. The battery produced 2-3 times the energy of the other batteries and was much smaller.

Even with all of the advances, there was little interest in the battery. Oxford refused to patent it. Dr. Goodenough signed over his patent rights to a research organization. He never received any income from his discovery, choosing instead to give the patent royalties to his colleagues and use his share to fund research and scholarships for students.

At the age of 97, Dr. Goodenough became the oldest person to ever receive a Nobel Prize. He shared the $100,000 with those who made contributions to his thinking about the battery. He was still active in research at the time.

Today Dr. Goodenough’s battery is vital to modern society with its use in smartphones, computers, medical devices, and electronic vehicles.

Dr. Goodenough died at the age of 100, just one month short of his 101st birthday. As we think of contributions over a person’s lifetime, there is a myth that those contributions decline rapidly after a certain age. Certainly, that wasn’t the case with Dr. Goodenough, and it isn’t true for many others who don’t believe that their life’s work has an expiration date.

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“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

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