Stanford Ovshinsky, whose inventions led to flat-screen TVs and the Toyota Prius, dies at 89 (VIDEO)

A visitor to the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) 2012 consumer electronics trade fair in Berlin, Germany looks at the Panasonic ETW5 energy efficient Smart TV flat-screen televisions.


Adam Berry

Stanford Ovshinsky, whose battery inventions power most of the world’s smartphones and other mobile devices, and helped the Toyota Prius become the world's first successful hybrid car, has died at age 89.

The a self-taught chemist and physicist, had prostate cancer, said his son, Harvey Ovshinsky, the Detroit News reported. He died peacefully at home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

One of Ovshinsky's inventions, the nickel-metal hydride battery, helped the Toyota Prius become the world's first successful hybrid car, according to Reuters.

His patented NiMH battery chemistry was used in devices such as laptop computers, digital cameras and cell phones, it added. 

The Wall Street Journal wrote that Ovshinsky helped to found a new field of physics studying the electronics of materials resembling glass — what he called "glass transistors," which he predicted would lead to desktop computers and television sets "hanging like portraits on the wall."

The technology — dubbed the "Ovshinsky effect," according to the Detroit News, and based on the principle that glass can be engineered to conduct electricity — opened the way to the development of flat-screen liquid crystal displays, among other modern conveniences.

"I'm a pretty good prophet," Ovshinsky told The Detroit News in 2008.

Hellmut Fritzsche, former chairman of physics department at the University of Chicago, said of these "glass transistors" — dubbed ovonics:

"It was like discovering a new continent, like discovering America. Nobody in the past 50-60 years has created such a revolution in science."

Over 50 years, Ovshinsky — who as the son of a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania had only a high school and trade school education — received more than 400 patents in the US and more than 800 foreign patents covering technologies such as rewritable CDs, DVD optical discs, hydrogen fuel cells and thin-film solar cells, Forbes wrote.

Time magazine in 1999 named him "Hero for the Planet." In 2007, The Detroit News named him a "Michiganian of the Year."

However, Forbes noted that "for all his genius, Ovshinsky was a poor businessman," and pointed to a critical 2003 profile it published. 

In 2007, Ovshinsky was forced out of the company that he co-founded with his second wife, Iris, a PhD chemist, Energy Conversion Devices (ECD).

A self-proclaimed socialist, according to the WSJ, "he said his work was inspired by a vision of humanity freed of resource wars and climate change."

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