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UT Austin professor awarded Nobel Prize for 'greatest' contribution to humankind

UT Austin professor given Nobel for greatest contribution to humankind

John B. Goodenough
The 97-year-old professor is now a Nobel laureate. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin

For the third time in three years, a member of the University of Texas at Austin community has been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize. On October 9, the Nobel Foundation announced John B. Goodenough is the recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry. 

A professor at UT's Cockrell School of Engineering, Goodenough shares the award with Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University for their collective work developing lithium-ion batteries.

"Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991," the foundation said. "They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind."

When it comes to explaining exactly what a lithium-ion battery is and why it's important, let's turn to the experts. Explains the Nobel Foundation in the award announcement:

"Lithium-ion batteries are used globally to power the portable electronics that we use to communicate, work, study, listen to music and search for knowledge. Lithium-ion batteries have also enabled the development of long-range electric cars and the storage of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power."

Goodenough, who is 97 years old, was responsible for a 1980 breakthrough that led to the development of even more powerful batteries. 

According to the university, Goodenough earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Yale University and a master's degree from the University of Chicago. During his career, he taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford University before joining the faculty at UT in 1986, where he continues to conduct groundbreaking research. 

"At 97 years old, Goodenough continues to push the boundaries of materials science with the goal of inventing more sustainable and energy-efficient battery materials," the university said in a release. "Goodenough and his team recently identified a new safe cathode material for use in sodium-ion batteries."

The October 9 announcement expands UT's Nobel Prize count to six. The newly minuted Nobel laureate joins UT colleague Steven Weinberg (physics, 1979) among current faculty members to win the awards. In addition, three alumnus, J.M. Coetzee (literature, 2003); Michael Young (physiology or medicine, 2017); and Jim Allison (physiology or medicine, 2018), have also won. Two additional professors, now deceased, were also Nobel recipients. 

After learning he won the award, Goodenough reacted to the news with humor. "Live to 97 and you can do anything," he said. "I’m honored and humbled."