The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
The Life and Inventions of Stanford R. Ovshinsky
- Winner of the 2020 IEEE Middleton Prize
400 pp., 7 x 9 in, 8 color illus., 131 b&w illus.
- Published: April 20, 2018
- Published: April 13, 2018
The first full-length biography of a brilliant, self-taught inventor whose innovations in information and energy technology continue to shape our world.
The Economist called Stanford R. Ovshinsky (1922–2012) “the Edison of our age,” but this apt comparison doesn't capture the full range of his achievements. As an independent, self-educated inventor, Ovshinsky not only created many important devices but also made fundamental discoveries in materials science. This book offers the first full-length biography of a visionary whose energy and information innovations continue to fuel our post-industrial economy.
In The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, Lillian Hoddeson and Peter Garrett tell the story of an unconventional genius with no formal education beyond high school who invented, among other things, the rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries that have powered everything from portable electronics to hybrid cars, a system for mass-producing affordable thin-film solar panels, and rewritable CDs and DVDs. His most important discovery, the Ovshinsky effect, led to a paradigm shift in condensed matter physics and yielded phase-change memory, which is now enabling new advances in microelectronics. A son of the working class who began as a machinist and toolmaker, Ovshinsky focused his work on finding solutions to urgent social problems, and to pursue those goals, he founded Energy Conversion Devices, a unique research and development lab. At the end of his life, battered by personal and professional losses, Ovshinsky nevertheless kept working to combat global warming by making solar energy “cheaper than coal”—another of his many visions of a better tomorrow.
Stan Ovshinsky really did see tomorrow. The batteries that power our cell phones and car batteries all owe a debt to him, as do our flat-screen TVs and the solar panels on our roofs, which are coated in the thin films he pioneered. But what I admired him for most was his firm belief that inequity of all sorts could be solved by science, that science breaks down boundaries, increases opportunities, and builds bridges between diverse people and communities. The Man Who Saw Tomorrow pays tribute to Stan's many achievements and honors the humanity of a man who believed that the machinists and toolers who turned his ideas into reality were just as important as the academics who flocked to his living room.
Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab; coauthor of Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future
A fascinating read for people who love biography, this study of an adventurous life also offers penetrating insights into modern science, invention, and entrepreneurship.
Spencer Weart, Historian Emeritus, American Institute of Physics
An invaluable resource to historians interested in the confluence of knowledge, entrepreneurship, and materials underlying the information age.
Physics in Perspective