“Don’t retire too early!”
Telephone interview with John B. Goodenough following the announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on 9 October 2019. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
John Goodenough has a straightforward advice for how to have a long life in research. The oldest-ever Nobel Prize recipient, at 97, he was in London to receive the Copley Medal from the Royal Society when news of his Nobel Prize broke. In this call with, recorded during the afternoon of this day of two prizes, he describes the developments he’s currently working on and his thoughts on the use of the technologies he has helped develop.
John Goodenough: Hello?
Adam Smith: Hello, this is Adam Smith calling from the website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm. Many congratulations.
JG: Yes, well thank you very much, indeed, it’s been a wonderful surprise.
AS: It’s quite a day, receiving the world’s oldest scientific prize in London and then hearing about the Nobel Prize on the same day.
JG: Yes, it’s quite a day. Yes, it is!
AS: This puts you in the company of everybody, of Darwin, of Einstein, you name it.
JG: Yeah, well. You know, you live long enough, you never know how it’s going to come out.
AS: Well, since you mention it, I guess people will be asking you a lot about the fact that you are the oldest ever person to be awarded the Nobel Prize. How do you feel about that?
JG: Well I’m very happy to be able to live this long! That’s right. [Laughs]
AS: Have you any secret to impart for a long life in research?
JG: No, I just say don’t retire too early. [Laughs]
AS: Good advice. Now the committee have cited your work in Oxford in the early ‘80s when you developed lithium-ion batteries, but the work continues, doesn’t it?
JG: Well, we’re working on how to develop a polymer which has an immobilised liquid in it, so that it conducts lithium or sodium as fast as in the liquid. That’s what we’re working on and the liquid is immobilised so it’s like a solid-state material.
AS: I wanted to mention to you, Professor Goodenough, I was an Oxford chemistry undergraduate when you were head of the department of inorganic chemistry.
JG: I see, and so you’re glad you didn’t have to listen to my lectures! [Laughs] You know Clare Grey put a bunch of teddy bears in the front seat to make sure that I had a bigger audience! [Laughs]
AS: [Laughs] At least they didn’t fall asleep right?
JG: No, the teddy bears managed to stay awake.
AS: Can you describe how you feel when you see everybody using the batteries that you helped develop?
JG: Well, let me say again, it’s how people use the technology that’s the important thing. You put the technology out there and it can be used for ill or for good. And if they use it for good, I’m very happy. And if they use it for bad, well I feel badly about it. But that’s the way life works. Technology is morally neutral; it’s how we use technology that determines everything.
AS: So, yes, the onus is very much on us to make the right choices. It’s a huge pleasure to speak to you. I very much look forward to speaking more when you come to Stockholm in December. For now I should let you get on and receive your Copley Medal at the Royal Society today.
JG: Yes, thank you very much.
AS: Thank you very much indeed.
JG: Bye bye.
AS: Bye bye.
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Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.