Stan Ovshinsky, “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” at Book Beat


Book Beat is excited to host co-authors Lillian Hoddeson and Peter Garrett on Friday, May 18 at 6:30 PM. Their book The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is the first full-length biography on the brilliant self-taught scientist, futurist and metro-Detroit native Stan Ovshinsky.

The first full-length biography of a brilliant, self-taught inventor whose innovations in information and energy technology continue to shape our world.

“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

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.

“What lifts Mr Ovshinsky into the league of genius inventors is something rather less common: success. He is the inventor of the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, which is used to power everything from portable electronics to hybrid cars; around 1 billion such batteries are sold every year. He has also made advances in information technology (he calls information “encoded energy”) and holds critical patents relating to thin-film solar cells, rewriteable optical discs, a new form of non-volatile memory and flat-panel displays. These technologies are being commercialised through deals with Intel, Samsung, STMicroelectronics, General Electric, Chevron, United Solar Ovonic, and others.” — The Edison of Our Age? The Economist

About the authors:

Lillian Hoddeson is Professor of History Emerita and Thomas Siebel Chair in the History of Science Emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She is the coauthor of True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen and other books.

Peter Garrett is Professor of English Emeritus and former Director of the Unit for Criticism and Theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the author of Gothic Reflections and other books.

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