ET View: Nobel Prize catches up with discovery that has fuelled the smartphone revolution

The Nobel prize for chemistry has gone to three scientists, whose joint efforts have resulted in the lithium ion battery that powers phones, laptops, other microelectronic devices and even electric cars. The scientists are John B. Goodenough, 97, a German-born engineering professor at the University of Texas, M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Japan’s Akira Yoshino, a sprightly 71 year-old, of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University.

Ironically, the award comes at a time when the world, after marvelling at the wonders made possible by the lightweight, rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, is waking up the battery’s limitation: dependence on lithium, and cobalt, whose known supplies are not only under Chinese control but probably insufficient to enable a mass migration of automobiles from the internal combustion engine to battery-powered electric vehicles, leave alone to enable battery storage of the power intermittently generated by large deployments of renewable energy sources.

Note Akira Yoshino’s twin affiliations, to the Asahi Kasei Corporation, whose joint venture with Toshiba produced commercial Lithium ion batteries for the first time, and to Meijo University, testimony to the close liaison between industry and higher education in Japan. The university was probably more than happy to get the head of a lab at the company, who also had a PhD, as a professor. It is unlikely that Meijo University has called for periodic review of Dr Yoshino’s CV to decide whether to retain him as professor or not.


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