Enrico Fermi Award Ceremony - John B. Goodenough

Thank you, Dr. Holdren, Dr. Koonin, Secretary Chu for your tributes to Enrico Fermi, an exceptional physicist and human being, indeed. Thank you, Dr. Holdren, for your presence and opening remarks. Thank you, Secretary Chu, for your generous introduction. Dr. Koonin, my thanks to you, to Dr. Brinkman, to Harriet Kung, for your support of energy-related research, and to the other members of the DOE for this splendid occasion. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for honoring us with your presence here this afternoon. I am particularly pleased that the DOE has chosen this year to celebrate work in Materials Science, Dr. Siegfried Hecker for his work in metallurgy and myself for work in ceramics. Materials Science is a field that enables new technologies; it fosters interdisciplinary cooperation between the physicist, the chemist, and the engineer, but it is rarely recognized for its contributions to the fundamental concepts of science.

I was fortunate to find my scientific voice at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory where I helped to develop the ferrimagnetic spinels—ceramics developed in Europe during World War II—that enabled the first random-access memory for the digital computer. But unlike the distinguished physicists behind me, the physicists all thought that I was a chemist because I had used the language of Linus Pauling, the chemists considered me to be a physicist because I was interested in the magnetic and electronic properties of solids, and the engineers wonder what I am doing in an Engineering School.

Thank you, Secretary Chu, Dr. Holdren, Dr. Koonin, and Dr. Brinkman for your recognition of the need for basic science performed with interdisciplinary cooperation if we are to develop a sustainable energy future and for your efforts to focus our national attention once again on the need for energy conservation and for the development of alternative energy technologies that can wean us from our dependence on fossil fuels. This time around, we recognize that it is not only our national security that is at stake; we are also threatened by global warming and by the finiteness of the resources of planet Earth that must sustain a growing population. Today we are aware that we all inhabit together but a small planet in a vast universe and that mankind lives under Judgment, the Judgment of the inviolable laws of Nature, both physical and moral.

To receive the Enrico Fermi Award is for me a special event because I had the privilege of taking courses in Quantum Mechanics and Nuclear Physics from Fermi at the University of Chicago on my return from Service in World War II. Fermi's lectures were subtly crafted, and only after I addressed his homework assignments in nuclear physics did I realize how superficial was my grasp of his expositions. It proved better for me to go into Solid State Physics with Clarence Zener.

In the early 1970s, the first energy crisis turned my attention away from magnetism, cooperative orbital ordering, and the charge-density waves encountered at the crossover from localized to itinerant d-electron behavior. I knew Bill Brinkman then for his famous paper with T.M. Rice on how the effective mass of the electron increases on the approach to this crossover from the itinerant-electron side. Consideration of solar energy led me to propose work on the storage of electrical energy as chemical energy either in a fuel generated by photoelectrolysis or in the electrodes of a rechargeable battery. I was to have more success with the batteries. However, at that time politics did not favor supporting energy research at a laboratory supported by the Air Force. Therefore, I responded to a call from the University of Oxford in England to be a Professor of Chemistry and Head of their Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory. It was a bold, imaginative, and daring call on their part; for me, my six years at an Episcopalian boarding school made me comfortable with the cultural change that the move would involve. One of the Oxford Dons had attempted to reassure me by saying, "Don't worry, John, in America you have private affluence and public squalor; in Oxford you will have public affluence and private squalor." This statement could hardly reassure my wife, but she was a good sport and a historian fully familiar with the turbulent history of Tudor England.

In the early 1970s, the EXXON-MOBILE Corporation had organized a research laboratory to develop new energy technologies. A team there had demonstrated that reversible intercalation of Li into the layered sulfide TiS2 provided a cathode for a Li+-ion rechargeable battery. However, it gave too low a voltage relative to a Lithium anode to be competitive once the Lithium anode proved unsafe. After a few explosive events, the program was abandoned. From arguments I had had with a Dutch team about the origin of ferromagnetism in the thiospinel Cu[Cr2]S4, I realized that a viable rechargeable Li+-ion battery with an improved voltage and energy density would need to have a transition-metal oxide as the cathode. Although layered oxides like the sulfide TiS2 do not exist, LiMO2 oxides order into alternate Li and trivalent-cation layers, which would represent a discharged rather than a charged cathode material.

In Oxford, I learned some electrochemistry with which to demonstrate that Lithium extraction from the layered cobalt and nickel oxides gave promising cathode materials for a Li+-ion rechargeable battery. But no battery company in England, Europe, or the U.S. was interested in manufacturing a cathode in a discharged state. However, the electrical engineers of the SONY Corporation in Japan recognized that these oxides were just what they needed to couple with a carbon anode for the battery of a cell telephone; with it they launched the wireless revolution.

Before I left the Lincoln Laboratory, the Ford Motor Company had initiated development of the Na/S battery, a battery that uses liquid electrodes and a solid Na+-ion electrolyte rather than solid electrodes and a liquid electrolyte. This program stimulated me to suggest and demonstrate fast alkali-ion transport in solid framework structures. At Oxford, I realized that transition-metal framework structures into which Li+ ions can be inserted/extracted reversibly could also be used as solid cathodes of a Li+-ion rechargeable battery, but only while working with Michael Thackeray, who came from South Africa to work with me at Oxford, did I realize that the spinels—the ceramics I had helped to develop for the memory of the digital computer—could provide a transition-metal oxide framework for three-dimensional Li+-ion transport in a battery electrode.

On my return to the U.S. as an Engineer in Austin, Texas, I have been able to renew my studies of magnetism, cooperative orbital ordering, and the unusual physical properties encountered at the crossover from localized to itinerant d-electron behavior in transition-metal oxides. These unusual physical properties include the high-temperature superconductivity discovered in the copper oxides by Bednorz and Mueller of IBM Zürich as I was preparing to return to the U.S. in 1986. But I have also continued my work on electrodes for Li+-ion batteries and initiated work on solid oxide fuel cells. It was while investigating the role of the counter cation on the tuning of the redox energies of transition-metal ions in framework structures with my student Padhi and postdoc Nanjundaswamy that the ordered olivine LiFePO4 was identified as a potential cathode material. The spinels and the olivines as well as the layered oxides are now being developed for power tools, small electric vehicles, and hybrid electric cars. Japan and China as well as Europe are challenging the manufacturing capabilities in this country for dominance of these evolving electrochemical systems.

This brief tour of my personal history illustrates, I hope, how essential are the interactions between basic science and technology and between different scientific disciplines if we are to develop transformational technologies, technologies that are sustainable and broadly available. We must find a way to avoid the developing conflicts over the resources that society needs and to achieve a greater social justice in the world. I am most grateful that the leadership in Washington that is present here today understands well this imperative.

My life's journey was never planned; it has been made possible by an invisible hand; by experimental colleagues too numerous to mention; by no call to higher administration, which has kept me in the trenches; and by a loving wife who has patiently endured the demands of my profession and shared with me adventures around the world.

Secretary Chu, Dr. Holdren, Dr. Brinkman, Dr. Koonin, I receive this Award gratefully on behalf of all those you support and of the many colleagues who have helped me over the years. Thank you. Thank you all.

Last modified: 3/15/2013 5:24:18 PM