Live blog: lithium-ion batteries take the 2019 chemistry Nobel prize


And that’s it for today

Thanks for joining us. We’ll be publishing a feature length story on the prize next week with interviews with all the main players, so look out for that. In the meantime you can find all our Nobel prize news, comment and features here.

4.52pm Got questions? We’ve got answers.

Our explainer goes over how lithium-ion batteries work, what the new laureates did to earn their prize and what’s next for battery technology.

3.40pm We got one!

Look out shortly – on @ChemistryWorld and @RoySocChem – for an interview we’ve just done with @NobelPrize winner John Bannister Goodenough. What a man – 97 and in incredible form after learning of his #NobelPrize2019 win.

— Edwin Silvester Ⓥ (@edwinsilvester) October 9, 2019
2.45pm Read all about it

Our news story on the Nobel prize is live and we’ll also be posting an explainer shortly on why this work was rewarded today, what contributions each of the three scientists made and how the lithium-ion battery has changed the world.

1.03pm I think he’s happy!

Source: © Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino smiles before the media in Tokyo after winning the 2019 Nobel Chemistry Prize for the development of lithium-ion batteries 

12.29pm More reaction from senior chemistry figures

“I’m absolutely delighted that John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino have been awarded the chemistry Nobel prize for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

“As we know, these batteries have helped power the portable revolution and now have a crucial role in electric vehicles to lowering emissions and improving air quality.

“In my view, this award is long overdue and it’s great to see that this important area of materials chemistry has been recognised.”

Professor Saiful Islam, Department of Chemistry, University of Bath

“I remember well when John, then in Oxford, did his pioneering work on the lithium cobalt oxide cathode. We were all impressed by this typically imaginative and creative piece of solid state chemistry; but none of us realised that the discovery would have global impact by changing the way we live and work”.

Professor Richard Catlow, Professor of Catalytic and Computational Chemistry, Cardiff Catalysis Institute, School of Chemistry

12.39pm And as chance would have it…

We have just published our comic celebrating lithium for the International Year of the Periodic Table. It looks at the creation and refinement of lithium-ion battery technology, featuring Yoshio Nishi (he could easily have been named on the Nobel), Akira Yoshino and John Goodenough.

Source: Story: Jim Ottaviani / Art: Nick Abadzis

12.25pm Better batteries

Goodenough’s lab pioneered lithium cobalt oxide as a battery cathode. Paired with a graphite anode, lithium cobalt oxide is the go-to cathode for smartphones and tablets. Demand from big battery makers, electronics manufacturers and auto companies, however, is putting pressure on cobalt supplies that are already under strain because of economics, politics and geography. Read our feature on the new battery chemistries and recycling schemes trying to dodge those supply issues.

12.19pm Mystery solved

Well that clears up why the Swedish academy had trouble getting hold of him – Goodenough’s not at home but in London to receive the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. What a prize giving event that will be tonight – Goodenough getting the oldest scientific award in the world after having got the most prestigious one earlier this morning. The Copley Medal was first awarded in 1731 and comes with a mere £25,000 – peanuts compared with £700,000 for the Nobel prize. No sign of Stanley Whittingham yet…

12.13pm Reactions starting to come in

Professor Dame Carol Robinson, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Firstly, congratulations to all of the recipients of this year’s prize. Their pioneering research is everywhere you look and a great example of how chemistry has paved the way for everything from the mobile phone in your pocket to the electric vehicles and home energy storage of the future.

“It’s not the end of the journey, as lithium is a finite resource and many scientists around the world are building on the foundations laid by these three brilliant chemists.

“It’s important to recognise that this research was originally fundamental – John Goodenough conducted much of his initial research when he was head of inorganic chemistry at the University of Oxford, so this is good recognition for UK science. It is now vital that governments and funders around the world continue to support the creative, discovery science that can provide a truly sustainable future for energy.

“John Goodenough is coming to the Royal Society this evening as he’s been awarded their Copley Medal, so there’s a celebration to which I’ve also been invited to receive their Royal Medal, and I’m delighted that I’ll get the chance to meet him.”

12.05pm Cutting room floor

Nice thread on everything that didn’t make it into Neil’s interview with Goodenough.

I’m now just going to tweet some of the stuff from my Goodenough interview that didn’t make the article:

— Neil Withers (@NeilWithers) October 9, 2019

11.56am Nice tribute to Goodenough here

‘He’s a fantastic scientist. He has been working in this field for many, many years, and he never retired, so he’s still working in this field, up until this age. He’s still going to the lab pretty much every day, as far as I know, and he’s still making contributions to the community when it comes to battery science and battery development. So he is a really remarkable person, he is really burning for this field and really made very large contributions.’

Olof Ramström, Linnaeus University

11.44 Good prediction

Our features editor, Neil Withers, has had a personal run-in with John Goodenough’s work while writing up his PhD – more on that later! But he was also an early booster for Goodenough for the Nobel prize back in 2008 he claims. And he has evidence too.

OK, I’m going to go there with a massive I TOLD YOU ALL ABOUT GOODENOUGH IN 2008: (3rd comment)

— Neil Withers (@NeilWithers) October 9, 2019

You can find Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino on plenty of other people’s Nobel predictions lists too, such as ChemBark, Curious Wavefunction and just about every poll taken (see below).

Clarivate (or Thomson Reuters as it was then) had Whittingham and Goodenough down in their 2015 hall of citation laureates too.

11.23am Stay tuned

We’ll be putting our story up on the worthy winners later today and an explainer on who the winners are, what they contributed and why their discovery is so important to be worthy of a Nobel prize (finally).

11.21am Where is Goodenough?

Apparently, even the Swedish academy of sciences haven’t been able to get in touch with him yet, so he may not know he’s even won the prize.

11.16am Goodenough takes record

John Goodenough is indeed the oldest person to ever becom a chemistry laureate at 97 and the oldest science laureate ever too. The record was previously held by one of last year’s physics Nobel prize winners, Arthur Ashkin. He was 96 years old when he won the prize.

11.11am Great news

A well deserved chemistry Nobel prize that so many people have been clamouring for for such a long time. Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised society by providing a relaible technology to keep laptops, mobile phones and so many other microelectronic gadgets going. They’re now ubiquitous and the world is looking to them to power our transport and help us drive down carbon emissions to fight climate change.

11.01am Battery technology

Goodenough has spoken with us a number of times over the years. We recently featured him in profile where he told us he just wanted to be an explorer. We’re also got a long read on his work creating the lithium-ion battery.

We’ve also profiled Akira Yoshino, one of the other ’fathers of the lithium-ion battery’.

10.57am Goodenough finally good enough

At 97 John Goodenough becomes the oldest chemistry Nobel laureate, possible the oldest laureate ever – we’ll be checking that shortly.

10.50am Lithium-ion batteries take it!

I never would have expected it. Lithium-ion batteries has been talked about for so long as a contender but so many thought their time had passed. Congratulations to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino.

The 2019 #NobelPrize in Chemistry has been awarded to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino “for the development of lithium-ion batteries.”

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 9, 2019

10.44am Ready to go

We should be starting in a minute. Haven’t heard about any delays from the academy.

10.39am Questions, questions

If you’re eager to test your chemistry Nobel knowledge while we wait you can do a very brief quiz on the Chemistry Views site.

10.36am Movement in Stockholm

Any minute now…

10.29am ‘Okay, who’s the schnook?’

We’ve had a couple of chemistry laureates tell us what it’s like to receive a call from Sweden – Ben Feringa one of the 2016 chemistry winners and Richard Henderson, one of last year’s winners, rejected the first call, before walking out on a meeting to take a second call. And the Nobel Prize Foundation has compiled a list of amusing stories. ‘Who’s the schnook?’ was what 2010 chemistry laureate Martin Chalfie asked himself when he visited the Nobel Prize website one morning in October. ‘I got to the Nobel Prize site and I found out I was the schnook!’

Other favourites include Richard Ernst having the captain find him during a flight to tell him in person that he’d won the Nobel prize!

10.23am Anyone’s phone ringing?

Secretary General, Göran K. Hansson, and the office phone are making history again. Who are they calling? #NobelPrize #Chemistry

— Vetenskapsakademien (@vetenskapsakad) October 9, 2019
10.19am Feringa Building

Winning a Nobel prize doesn’t just get you a bike parking space. It can get you a building named after you. Congratulations to Ben Feringa – work has just started on the Feringa Building.

How is your day? We don’t want to brag but ours includes a tiny Feringa Building sandcastle and the city’s most delicious petit fours

— Feringa Lab (@FeringaLab) September 18, 2019

(Although perhaps Niels Bohr, 1922 physics laureate, was given something even better – Carlsberg gifted Bohr a house next to its brewery with free beer on tap.)

10.11am Eyes on the prize money

The Nobel prize was the biggest prize of its kind when it got going – this year’s prize medals also comes with SEK9 million (£730,000). That the Nobel Foundation has been giving such large awards for over a century is down to Alfred Nobel leaving SEK1.7 billion for the setting up of the prize. As you can see now, however, the Nobel prize award has been overtaken by some big-spending newcomers, but the Nobels must surely still be considered the most prestigious science prize out there.

10.07am Past performance can be a guide to future results

The Lasker Awards have often been good predictors of Nobel prizes over the years, being highly prestigious awards in the biosciences. Given that the chemistry Nobel prize now reward discoveries in biochemistry more than any other field (more on that later) the Lasker’s have proven a good predictor for both the medicine and physiology prize and the chemistry one too. This year the basic research prize was given for the discovery of two classes of lymphocytes – B and T cells – to Max Cooper and Jacques Miller, which ‘launched the course of modern immunology’. The clinical research award went to H Michael Shepard, Dennis Slamon and Axel Ullrich for the development of Herceptin, the first monoclonal antibody that targets cancer. The award for Shepard, Slamon and Ullrich might have been a good bet for the medicine and physiology Nobel prize – if we hadn’t seen George Smith and Gregory Winter take one half of the chemistry prize last year for work that led to the development of monoclonal antibody drugs.

To prove the point that the Lasker Awards can be a good predictor of medicine and physiology or chemistry prize success, you need look no farther than Monday’s medicine Nobel prize. In 2016, William Kaelin, Jr, Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their work on how animals’ cells can sense and adapt to changes in oxygen. On Monday William Kaelin, Jr, Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza won the physiology or medicine Nobel prize for their work on how animals’ cells can sense and adapt to changes in oxygen. Let’s see what happens this year…

9.56am Bikes are the new cars

One of the traditional ways in which universities honoured their Nobel laureates was a parking space in a prime location at the institute. The University of California, Berkeley seems to have started the practice and with the institute laying claim to 48 Nobel laureates it’s no wonder they have rows of parking spaces.

Source: © Alamy Stock Photo

UC Berkeley has plenty of space for laureates

But it seem the times they are a changing with many carbon conscious laureates choosing to cycle to work now. One of last year’s chemistry prize winners, George Smith at the University of Missouri, was given a space in a bike rack. He’s not the first either. Ben Feringa, a 2016 chemistry Nobel laureate, was given his own spot in a bike rack too.