M. Stanley Whittingham traveled nearly 4,000 miles in December to collect and celebrate his Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On Jan. 17, he spoke about his experience for the first time at a Binghamton University Forum event.
The BU Forum is a membership-based group consisting of Broome County and BU community members. Each semester the Forum hosts guest speakers, including BU faculty and alumni, to discuss topics related to their work. The Forum’s first event of the semester brought Whittingham and BU President Harvey Stenger to the stage to have a conversation about Whittingham’s trip to Sweden.
On Dec. 10, Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus, king of Sweden, handed Whittingham a diploma and the gold-plated Nobel Prize. After receiving the award, Whittingham spoke in front of 1,300 banquet attendees as many more watched from around the world. During the Forum event, Whittingham said since the Swedish people are proud of hosting the award ceremony, many dressed up at home and made the same meal as the banquet so they could also join the celebration.
Upon arrival in Stockholm, Sweden, Whittingham said he bypassed airport terminals and was picked up in limousines. He slept in five-star hotels and ate top-notch meals. Other than the traditional banquet, Whittingham attended a myriad of events, talks and meetings throughout the time he was there.
“It was great,” Whittingham said. “It was go, go, go. It was 12 hours every day. We had a chauffeur waiting for us to rush us from one place to the next.”
One of his favorite events, Whittingham said, was video calling astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) to talk about how they are using his work in space.
“They understood what we were doing,” Whittingham said. “As it turns out, they just put lithium-ion batteries in the space station within the previous month, so they knew all about it and they were excited about it. It was wonderful how smoothly it went. I was down on Earth and they were up there.”
Another of Whittingham’s most memorable moments in Sweden took place just after the banquet. He sat for a televised roundtable discussion with other Nobel laureates, called “Nobel Minds,” hosted by the BBC. There, Whittingham spoke on the potential effects of lithium-ion batteries.
“The batteries we have are really a first step,” Whittingham said at the roundtable discussion. “They will get us to the next step and help us reduce some of the CO2 we generate. We can easily convert vehicles over to electric transportation. We can clean up the cities by only allowing electric vehicles in the center of cities like Stockholm, London and New York.”
Jason Andrews, chair of the BU Forum, said the group aims to connect local residents with University faculty and administrators through regularly scheduled talks. Andrews said he believes having faculty such as Whittingham working and living in Broome County inspires many.
“It’s certainly an inspiration for our community and our leaders,” Andrews said. “But it’s also [an inspiration] from the seat of an educator and a parent thinking about our students working in a school that this type of success in creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship is right here. It just speaks to the deep quality of the program here at [BU].”