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John Goodenough Receives Prestigious Welch Award in Chemistry

john goodenough

The Welch Foundation has announced that Cockrell School of Engineering professor and legendary inventor of the lithium-ion battery John B. Goodenough is the 2017 recipient of the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Goodenough first received wide acclaim for his research following the invention of the lithium-ion battery in 1980, leading the way for the extraordinary growth in portable electronic devices that continues today. More than 30 years later, Goodenough, who is 95 years old, continues to contribute groundbreaking research.

“The global impact of Goodenough’s research of electronic structure and bonding metal oxides is so vast, it is truly impossible to measure,” said Charles W. Tate, director and chair of The Welch Foundation Board of Directors. “At 95 years old, his fervor for new discoveries has not wavered.”

Currently the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, Goodenough’s lithium-ion, rechargeable battery powers nearly every modern mobile device, as well as electric cars. The battery also solved a major environmental problem, removing harmful components, such as cadmium, found in earlier generations of batteries. Among many accolades received for his work over the years, Goodenough was presented the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013, the nation's foremost scientific honor, bestowed upon an individual deserving of special recognition for outstanding contributions to the physical, biological, mathematical or engineering sciences.

“Many things we now consider pivotal to our everyday lives are made possible by the lithium-ion battery,” said Peter B. Dervan, chair of The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “From cellphones and power tools to electric vehicles, Goodenough contributed research that has led to immense commercialization.”

In April of this year, Goodenough and his team made international headlines with the announcement they have filed a patent for new technology that will allow for safer and less expensive batteries. Much like the lithium-ion battery that came before it, this new technology has extensive potential commercial and environmental applications. For instance, the battery would allow electric cars to go farther on a single charge and will reportedly recharge in minutes, rather than hours.

Goodenough was a captain in the United States Air Force from 1942 to 1948, after which he pursued a formal education, receiving his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1952. He was as a professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford from 1976 to 1986. Goodenough has received numerous awards and written eight books, including his most recent work, "Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Technology: Principles, Performance and Operations."

The purpose of the Welch Award is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of humankind as set forth in the will of Robert Alonzo Welch. Upon accepting the award, Goodenough will receive $500,000.

The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, is one of America’s largest private funding sources for basic chemical research. Since 1954, the organization has contributed more than $866 million to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. In addition to the Welch Award, each year The Welch Foundation presents the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research, recognizing the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers.

For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Welch Award recipients, please visit welch1.org.