A distinguished Binghamton University chemistry professor was announced as a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate, recognizing him as a Nobel Prize hopeful.
Stanley Whittingham was named, along with his colleague John B. Goodenough from the University of Texas at Austin, for his work on lithium ion batteries. The duo earned one of three designations made in the chemistry category. Lithium ion batteries are rechargeable, and are the power source found in everything from smartphones and laptops to Broome County Transit hybrid electric buses.
According to Thomson Reuters, an individual’s designation on their list means that the recipient and their work is of Nobel Prize caliber. Thomson Reuters has successfully predicted 37 Nobel Prize winners since 2002.
Whittingham first began his research 40 years ago while working for Exxon, focusing on intercalation chemistry with lithium.
“Exxon wanted to be an energy company, not just a petroleum company,” Whittingham said. “They encouraged research into all different sorts of energy like fuel cells, and I worked on electrochemistry.”
With intercalation, Whittingham placed lithium in crystal structures and found he was able to remove it later without damaging the initial makeup of the structure.
Whittingham has 16 patents for his research and has been published over 200 times. Currently, he is the director of the NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage at BU. In 2014, his lab was awarded a $12.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. These grants are given to fund research centers that are working toward scientific breakthroughs that will benefit the economy.
According to Whittingham, he and Goodenough worked independently for most of their careers. Goodenough’s research focused on the development of lithium cobalt oxide, the commercial version of lithium used in batteries, and occurred 10 to 15 years after Whittingham’s initial discovery.
The two crossed paths occasionally, but Goodenough spent most of his career stationed in Oxford before teaching at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The battery thing is an Anglo-American idea,” Whittingham said. “I was the Englishman in America and he was the American in England.”
Whittingham said the next step in his research is to enhance the efficiency of lithium ion batteries. He hopes to discover a way to increase recharging speed and indestructibility.
“Right now you get less than a quarter of the energy out of the battery than you should based on the calculations,” Whittingham said. “Part of it is the materials aren’t up to it, and part of it is the packaging.”
BU chemistry department chair Wayne Jones said Whittingham’s accomplishment will be beneficial work in chemistry on a global scale.
“Citations are an excellent indicator of the impact of the research in a particular field,” Jones said. “This recognition for professor Whittingham’s publications and citations helps to further elevate the reputation of research in chemistry and materials at Binghamton around the world.”
Whittingham said that recognition from Thomson Reuters, and the possible Nobel Prize award, would benefit the University and help put BU on the map in a way it has not been before.
“These other people recognized are from famous places, and many may look at the list and go ‘where’s Binghamton?’ But they will remember the name,” Whittingham said. “And maybe their children will come here for college.”
But beyond the benefits to the University, Whittingham remained quiet when addressing pride in the announcement.
“For me,” he said, “it is just very nice.”
The Nobel Prize in chemistry will be announced Wednesday, October 7 in Stockholm, Sweden.