M. Stanley Whittingham was born in 1941 in Nottingham, England. His father was an engineer, the first in his family to attend college. Whittingham developed his interest in science as a student at the Stamford School in Lincolnshire. After receiving a BA in chemistry and an MA and doctorate in solid state chemistry from the University of Oxford, Whittingham arrived in the United States in 1968 to take up a postgraduate fellowship at Stanford University. As he has recalled, “I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see the sunshine. There was an opportunity in California, and I grabbed it!”
During 16 years with energy giant Exxon and then at Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY), which he joined in 1988, Whittingham established himself as a pioneering researcher on lithium-ion batteries. With John B. Goodenough and Akira Yoshino, Whittingham shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of that “fantastic battery.” The prize garnered more than the usual share of public attention paid to scientific prizes because of the battery’s “enormous, dramatic effect on society.” As the Nobel Committee noted when announcing the prize, “This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel–free society.” In 2019, the year he won the Nobel, a study concluded that more than one-third of the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Medicine, and Physics awarded to Americans have gone to immigrants like Whittington. His other prizes include the ISSI Senior Scientist Award and the Turnbull Award. The “founding father of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries” also holds 16 patents.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Whittingham is currently distinguished professor of chemistry and materials science at Binghamton University and director of the NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage (NECCES), a U.S. Department of Energy–funded effort to develop the next generation of lithium-ion batteries. Whittingham is hopeful that the Nobel Prize win will bring more attention to these research efforts, and he is optimistic that lithium-ion batteries can “play a big role” in helping us meet the challenge of climate change.