International Society of Electrochemistry


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John B. Goodenough

Credit of The University of Texas at Austin


When you had been visiting a major conference on energy research in the last half century you had a good chance to notice a resounding, irresistible, braying laughter of a tall scientist named John Goodenough. From June 25 of this year on this sound will never be heard again. John passed away in the biblical age of 100 years. He lived a fulfilled scientific life being a master example of how silly it is to force creative and active people to retire, since most of his groundbreaking discoveries in the field of energy research were made in the last 40 years. Even though more than a generation lied between us, we became scientific friends, and had – beyond personal chats - reams of scientific discussions and debates.

John Goodenough was born in Jena (Germany), moved already as an infant with his family to the US. Here he received a profound education in mathematics, physics and chemistry. It was this interdisciplinary endowment that allowed him to achieve pioneering accomplishments in the fields of electrochemistry and materials science. His academic career started at MIT (MA) where he essentially experienced his “electronic phase”, and was continued as an “ionic phase” in Oxford (UK) where he became Professor for Inorganic Chemistry. The last move was then back to US, more precisely to Austin (Texas). Two reasons had been decisive for this return: first of all, the possibility to continue to work without age restriction; and second the fact that he – as a chemical physicist - did never feel fully accepted by the classic inorganic solid state community. Ironically, the work that he accomplished in Oxford which later brought him the Nobel prize, was exactly in the classic domain of solid state chemistry.

The major achievement in this context was the exploration of Lithium Cobaltate and its aptitude to store Lithium massively and quickly. Together with the works of Stan Whittingham, the pioneer of intercalation electrodes, and of Akira Yoshino who mastered the counter electrode, this led to the so-called “Li-ion battery” which revolutionized our daily life by enabling portable electronics as well as electromobility.
Beyond this achievement one should not forget his basic contributions to materials with high sodium conductivity, high oxygen conductivity, proton conductivity as well as to photoelectrochemistry. While these aspects only refer to his “ionic phase”, his “electronic phase” was equally productive and culminated in the “Goodenough-Kanamori rules” which now belong to textbook knowledge in modern magnetism.

I well remember having once talked to John working in the lobby of a conference hotel and having asked him what he is so busy with at the moment: The answer “Something that really interests me - electron correlation”(!) testifies that a great scientific mind cannot be localized at a specific topic.

A personal note: In a lecture that I gave in Austin on the occasion of John’s 90th birthday, I cited and rephrased a few lines from Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (“May you stay forever young, and may your papers be always read – well enough”), and  mentioned that the original song was often sung by Pete Seeger who received the honor of being admitted to the Hall of Fame only in his Nineties. A few years later I had the pleasure to deliver another birthday talk for John – online due to Corona – and could mention that both had meanwhile received the Nobel prize: Bob Dylan and John Goodenough.

Joachim Maier
Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart,