Compared to both Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, Stanford Ovshinsky combined a love of science, abundant inventiveness and a deep commitment to social values.
Sustainability & Social Conscience
Stanford Ovshinsky (November 24, 1922 – October 17, 2012) was a prolific American inventor and scientist who was granted well over 400 patents. The electronics field of ovonics was named after him. He received various honorary degrees and awards but had no formal education after high school, and claimed to have taught himself science by using the public libraries of Ohio where he grew up.
Ovshinsky’s inventions have had wide-ranging application: the most prominent include the nickel-metal hydride battery used in early electric vehicles; thin-film solar energy laminates and panels; LCD screens; rewritable CD and DVD discs; hydrogen fuel cells; and non-volatile phase-change memory.
Throughout his life, Ovshinsky’s love for science and his social convictions were the primary motivators for his inventive work. He founded Energy Conversion Laboratory (now Energy Conversion Devices) to develop his inventions in the interest of solving societal problems, for example pollution and wars fought over oil.
His son Harvey said, “My father worked tirelessly … to change the world and its attitude toward sustainable energy.” Researchers at ECD worked on numerous energy technologies including a hydrogen-powered hybrid car, part of Ovshinsky’s vision of a hydrogen-based economy.
In 2007, Ovshinsky established Ovshinsky Innovation LLC, devoted to developing the scientific basis for highly innovative and revolutionary energy and information technologies.
Ovshinsky Innovation is currently focusing on the development of a photovoltaic plant based on a new concept which promises to lower the cost of photovoltaic energy to below that of coal. Success in this venture would help realize his long-term goal of making fossil fuels obsolete, while providing countless jobs in new industries.
There are people who think that technology will solve all of the world’s problems. I am not one of them, because I believe that the greatest problems are moral in nature (for example, greed and prejudice). Technology can actually make these moral failings more dangerous.
However, I do believe that technology will eventually solve challenges such as resource constraints and clean energy. Whether a hydrogen economy is the way of the future is unclear to me, but energy will one day cease to be a problem. We are surrounded by clean and renewable energy sources, from the sun to atomic forces to the motion of the planets.
So I like what Stan Ovshinsky was working on, and I like even more his mix of innovation and social conscience. He may have been a pioneer in allowing his social conscience to direct his professional career, but he isn’t alone. We have highlighted a number of great stories so far in this blog (e.g. Derek Handley, Joe Oliver and BioLite), and will keep adding more as we come across them.