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Genius inventor Stanford Ovshinsky passes away

Genius inventor Stanford Ovshinsky passes away

THE death has taken place of Stanford R. Ovshinsky, who was regarded as a genius inventor. His work resulted in or contributed to the development of a range of devices and products including nickel-metal hybrid batteries and solar energy panels. He was 89.

The fact that Mr. Ovshinsky was to achieve so much during his professional life, belies the fact that when he first began to express his then unconventional ideas he was greeted with scorn and scepticism from within the scientific world.

This was in the late 1950s when he challenged the accepted wisdom relating to semiconductors. Mr. Ovshinsky argued that instead of using crystals in which molecules lined up in ordered ranks to produce semiconductors, less regimented materials, such as silicon crystals, could be used in their construction.

Many scientists of the day dismissed this theory, but the self-taught Ovshinsky, who had not gone to college, was to prove them wrong. He was to demonstrate that small quantities of amorphous materials could instantly reorganise their structures when exposed to a charge and could then act as efficient semiconductors.

With his second wife Iris, he was to found the company which eventually became known as Energy Conversion Devices to exploit what he called Ovonics. The company, along with numerous spin-off enterprises and licensees, went on to develop many products— among the more than 400 patents that Mr. Ovshinsky held were those relating to flat-panel displays, electriconic memory technology and rewritable optical discs.

The nickel-metal battery technology that he invented is at the heart of many of today’s hybrid cars. He also worked on hydrogen fuel cell technology which the car industry may also embrace.

As well as being a scientist and inventor, Mr. Ovshinsky was also committed to social values, including civil rights and workers’ rights.

To view a talk given by Mr. Ovshinsky at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008, click here.

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