The Legacy of a Legend

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  • Author: Scott L. Spencer Publisher
I recently learned that Stan Ovshinsky had succumbed to pancreatic cancer at his home in Michigan. He was 89, and by all accounts led a very full and productive life. If you are not familiar with Mr. Ovshinsky, it would not be surprising. Like Archimedes of Syracuse, as an inventor and visionary Ovshinsky never received the level of public notoriety bestowed on Edison, Einstein or Bell. Yet his research and resulting inventions continue to have a lasting impact on society. Ovshinsky is best known as the inventor of the nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH), which was used to power hybrid cars and portable electronics such as laptop computers, digital cameras, mobile phones, and a variety of portable electronic devices. In a partnership with General Motors, he developed the battery that powered the EV1, the first massproduced electric vehicle of the modern era from a major automaker. This same technology is in use today in other hybrid vehicles such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, although more advanced lithium-ion batteries have replaced NiMH batteries in many applications. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1922, Ovshinsky never attended college. He labored in a one-room library devouring technical books and scientific journals that became the foundation of his scientific knowledge. His devotion to learning along with the practical skills he acquired working as a machinist and tool maker led him to become director of research at an automotive and defense supplier at age 30. There he invented an automated lathe used in the production of artillery shells and another for machining brake drums. He worked to develop an electric power steering unit for the automotive industry. In his spare time he studied computers and neurophysiology.