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John B. Goodenough just became the oldest person, at 97, to win a Nobel Prize

Charles Dharapak/AP

Most 97-year-olds would probably feel accomplished just getting out of bed in the morning. John B. Goodenough, 97, just won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Goodenough won the award alongside Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their contributions to the development of lithium-ion batteries.

Goodenough is the oldest person to win a Nobel Prize. Arthur Ashkin was the previous record holder, having won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2018 at age 96.

“Live to 97 (years old) and you can do anything,” Goodenough said in a statement. “I’m honored and humbled to win the Nobel Prize. I thank all my friends for the support and assistance throughout my life.”

Born in 1922 in Jena, Germany, Goodenough earned a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1952, according to the Nobel Foundation. He went on to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then at the University of Oxford, where he served as the head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, according to the University of Texas at Austin, where he now works.

It was at Oxford that Goodenough made the groundbreaking discovery that helped him win the Nobel, UT Austin officials said in a news release.

‘The foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society’

Whittingham developed the first functional lithium battery in the early 1970s, but Goodenough was able to double the battery’s potential in 1980 by using lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode of a lithium-ion battery, the foundation said. Using Goodenough’s cathode as a basis, Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery five years later.

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

From laptops to smartphones, lithium-ion batteries power some of the most commonly used devices. Electric vehicles were made possible because of the development of these batteries, and wireless communication has flourished because of the technology.

“I’m extremely happy the lithium-ion batteries (have) helped communications around the world,” Goodenough said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “We are indeed happy that people use this for good and not evil.”

Goodenough serves as the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering in the Cockrell School at UT Austin.

Even at the age of 97, he continues to develop new polymers and battery concepts with researchers in his lab. He is now largely focused on developing all-solid-state batteries as they can offer better safety, according to Arumugam Manthiram, a longtime colleague from UT Austin.

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