Once a Lincoln Lab researcher, a professor known for his laughter receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry at 97

Nobel chemistry winner John B. Goodenough.
Nobel chemistry winner John B. Goodenough. Alastair Grant/Associated Press

John B. Goodenough, a former researcher at MIT’s Lincoln Lab, still goes to work every day at age 97 at the University of Texas. He’s known for his loud laughter echoing through the hallways.

On Wednesday there was even more to be merry about: He won a Nobel Prize.

Goodenough shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry — even though he doesn’t have a chemistry degree — with two other scientists for performing the fundamental science that led to lithium-ion battery.

Here are some facts about Goodenough, who worked at the Lab for some 20 years before leaving in 1976.

■ During his time at the Lab in the early 1950s, Goodenough was a major factor in the creation of a new type of RAM — random access memory — technology that started the downsizing of computers from the size of garages to laptops and other small computers available today.

■ A longtime collaborator at the University of Texas in Austin believes Goodenough will someday win a second Nobel, this time for his research into the properties of magnetisim, something Goodenough wrote about in a 1963 book.


■Goodenough is now forever linked to chemistry as his field of study — but none of his academic degrees are in that field. He graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1943 and received a master’s and doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago in 1951 and 1952.

■ Goodenough’s work that led to the Nobel Prize was conducted at the University of Oxford in 1979 and 1980 — where he had been hired as the chair of the university’s Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory in 1976, despite the lack of a chemistry degree.

■ Goodenough was not in Texas when the Nobel was announced — he was in England receiving the Copley Medal, the scientific world’s oldest honor, which has been bestowed on Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Dorothy Hodgkin, the 1964 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.


■He also is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the nation’s highest honor for engineering professionals, the recipient of the 2009 Enrico Fermi Award, laureate of the 2001 Japan Prize, and a foreign member of the Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas, y Naturales of Spain.

■During World War II, Goodenough was a military meteorologist who was tasked with calculating flight times for aircraft traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe from the US. Even though jet streams — and the impact they can have on an aircraft’s travel time — had not been identified, Goodenough’s work was precise enough that a flight bearing General Dwight Eisenhower arrived in Europe just 6 minutes off the predicted time.

■Goodenough turned 97 this July and reports to work daily at the Austin campus, where his current assignment is as a full-time researcher. He stopped teaching courses just two years ago, said Jianshi Zhou, his longtime colleague at the University of Texas in Austin. On campus, Goodenough is not known so much for his intellect or his groundbreaking research — but his laugh, which is loud and heard frequently throughout the building where he works.

“He laughs all the time. When he is in his office, we can hear his laughing all over the floor,’’ Zhou said in a telephone interview. “That’s how we know he is there.”


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.