“Goodenough’s original lithium-cobalt-oxide cathode structure is still used in the lithium-ion batteries found in almost all personal electronics like smartphones and tablets,” Helen Gregg wrote in The University of Chicago Magazine in 2016. “When he was tinkering with oxides back at Oxford, Goodenough had no idea of the impact his battery would have.”
John Bannister Goodenough was born in Jena, Germany, on July 25, 1922, the second of four children of Erwin and Helen (Lewis) Goodenough. His father was finishing graduate studies at Oxford University, and the family returned to the United States when John was an infant and settled in Woodbridge, Conn., after his father joined the Yale faculty to teach comparative religion.
In an interview for this obituary in 2017, Dr. Goodenough said that he and his siblings, Ward, James and Hester, had “mismatched” parents who were “aloof” with their children. John also struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and was regarded as a backward student at local primary schools. As a teenager at the Groton School in Massachusetts, he made adjustments to cope with dyslexia.
“I overcame it in a sense,” he recalled. “I was able to read mechanically. And I covered my tracks a bit by avoiding English and history, and focusing on mathematics and languages — six years of Latin and four of Greek.” Rigorous educational standards at Groton and Yale also gave structure to his life, he said.
He graduated at the top of his Groton class in 1940 and received a scholarship to Yale, where he majored in mathematics, tutored and worked other jobs to pay for his education. He had almost completed coursework for his bachelor’s degree in 1943 when he was called to active duty in the wartime Army Air Forces. He received his degree after Yale gave him credit for a military meteorology course. He served in Newfoundland and the Azores.
After the war, he received a government scholarship to study physics at the University of Chicago. He earned a master’s degree in 1951 and a doctorate a year later. After working briefly for Westinghouse, he began his career at M.I.T.
In 1951, he married Irene Wiseman. They had no children. She died in 2016. He is survived by a sister, Ursula W. Goodenough, and a brother, Daniel A. Goodenough, both of whom are emeritus biology professors.
Dr. Goodenough held the Virginia H. Cockrell centennial chair in engineering at the University of Texas. He wrote eight books and more than 800 articles for scientific journals. His honors included the Japan Prize, the Enrico Fermi Award, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the Welch Award in Chemistry and the National Medal of Science, which he was given by President Barack Obama in 2011.
Alex Traub and Chang Che contributed reporting.