Stanford R. Ovshinsky, Self-Taught Genius Dies at 89

On Wednesday, October 17, 2012, the world lost a modern-day genius, one who was rivaled only by the likes of Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. In addition to being creative, innovative, and remarkably intelligent, these iconic men shared another thing in common—they were all largely self-taught.

Having never graced the doors of a college classroom (at least not as a student), Ovshinsky transformed the technology, automotive, and alternative energy industries with his groundbreaking theories and inventions, many of which were initially perceived as highly controversial if not downright foolish by his colleagues. Still, one consultant and colleague of Ovshinsky, Chicago physicist Hellmut Fritzsche, called him “the only genius [he] ever met,” despite his 40-year career at the University of Chicago (as cited in Woo, 2012).

Perhaps the most notable accomplishment of the “energy genius,” as he was called, was the invention of the nickel-metal-hydride battery, which has been used to power such high-tech machines as laptops, cellphones, and even hybrid cars.

It might be said that Ovshininsky’ s legacy left its mark on not just the energy field, but on the education field as well. At the very least, his life’s work begs the questions: Is compulsory education and college education really necessary, or does is, as John Taylor Gatto, author of The Weapons of Mass Instruction, argues, serve only to dumb us down or stifle our creativity? If more of us were given the freedom to learn on our own about the things that most interest us, would we accomplish more as individuals, as a society, as a species? Yes, I believe we would, and although he never officially weighed in on the subject, I happen to think our modern day genius would agree.

Ovshininsky died of prostate cancer at his home in Bloomfield, Michigan.

References

Woo, E. (2012, Oct. 20). Stanford Ovshininsky dies at 89; inventor founded new field of electronics. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/20/local/la-me-stanford-ovshinsky-20121021.

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