And your iPods, laptops and a ton of other digital gadgets that you seemingly can't do without. These four guys are instrumental in the development of the Lithium-ion battery, the widely used power source for those and many other devices.
The four are John Goodenough, Yoshio Nishi, Rachid Yazami and Akira Yoshino. You might not give them another thought; they're just like so many engineers who labor with little or no recognition. But now they're getting their well-deserved acknowledgment as the recipients of the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering.
Never heard of that either? When Alfred Nobel left a big wad of money to create an international award for excellence in the sciences and art he left out engineers. That was ironic because he came from a family of engineers and in addition to being an inventor and chemist, he himself was an engineer.
So the National Academy of Engineering created the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering "...to honor those who have contributed to the advancement of engineering and to improve public understanding of the importance of engineering and technology." Within the engineering profession, it's the most prestigious of awards.
Considering the significance of their work, it's worthwhile to get to know them a bit, at least as deserving of knowing who received the, say, Golden Globes. You can read it here, in the academy's press release:
2014 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering Recipients
The lithium-ion battery is used by millions of people around the world through the commonplace use of cell phones, laptops, hearing aids, cameras, tablets, power tools, and many other compact, lightweight mobile devices. John Goodenough, Yoshio Nishi, Rachid Yazami, and Akira Yoshino each made substantial contributions to its development.
In 1979, John Goodenough discovered that by using lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) as a positive electrode and lithium metal as a negative electrode, he could enable a rechargeable cell where the LiCoO2 serves as the donor of lithium ions to the negative node. This discovery led to the development of carbon-rich materials that allow for the use of stable and manageable negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.
Shortly after Goodenough’s breakthrough, Rachid Yazami began exploring graphite compounds in which lithium could be reversibly inserted between graphite layers. This provided an alternative to the lithium metal negative electrode. Yazami’s lithium-graphite is the most commonly used anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries today.
In 1985, Akira Yoshino produced a rechargeable lithium-ion battery prototype using a lithium cobalt oxide cathode and a carbon anode, eliminating metallic lithium. This design significantly improved the safety of the battery, while also providing practical energy output at a reasonable price. Yoshino’s work resulted in the first safety-tested commercially acceptable lithium-ion battery.
Yoshio Nishi, served as operating officer and senior manager of Sony Corporation, sought to make the lithium-ion battery a household item. After overseeing the development of the quality control necessary for mass-producing the battery, Sony officially released the high performance lithium-ion battery into the market under Nishi’s supervision. The economic impact of the lithium-ion battery is now estimated at approximately $10 billion.
John B. Goodenough began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in 1952 where he laid the groundwork for the first random-access memory (RAM) of the digital computer. After leaving MIT, he became the Professor and Head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at The University of Oxford. During this time, Goodenough made the lithium-ion discovery. In 1986, he took the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin where he currently works.
Akira Yoshino conducted his research on rechargeable batteries after joining the Asahi Kasei Corporation in 1972, where he currently serves as a fellow and the general manager. Over the last 40 years, Yoshino has served in numerous positions and has worked in several laboratories at the Asahi Kasei Corporation. In addition to his current roles, he is also the President of the Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Center (LIBTEC)
Rachid Yazami began his career and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CRNS) in France, where he later became the research director in 1998. While working at the CRNS, Yazami also served as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology between 2000 and 2010. In 2010 he was appointed as a visiting professor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, where he later became the Cheng Tsang Man Chair Professor in Energy at the School of Materials Science and Engineering. In 2011 Yazami founded a start-up company in Singapore, KVI, PTE LTD, dedicated to battery life and safety enhancement for mobile electronics, large energy storage and electric vehicles applications. Yazami is also the founder of CFX battery, Inc., (now Contour Energy Systems) a primary and rechargeable lithium and fluoride battery start-up company in Azusa, California.
Yoshio Nishi is retired senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Sony Corporation. In addition to these roles, he also held the positions of executive vice president, corporate research fellow and the president of materials laboratories chief technology office at Sony. Nishi joined Sony Corporation immediately after his graduation and was engaged in R&D on fuel cells, materials for electroacoustic transducers, and electrochemical cells with nonaqueous electrolyte.
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