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Stanford R. Ovhshinsky, the son of a Lithuanian scrap metal dealer. Without any schooling beyond high school, he started his own (successful) machine shop, and springboarded an entire field of electronics and materials engineering.

Born in Akron, OH, in 1922, he is an inventor most well known for his work in amorphous semiconductor materials. His work involved devising a method to crystalize amorphous materials, which gives them all sorts of fun new properties. The field of study this involves was named ovonics, for Ovshinsky Electronics. These amorphous semiconductors are probably his most widely used invention, commonly occuring in all sorts of modern electronics, including LCD monitors and CD-RW. The Ovshinsky effect describes the effect of a specific thin glassy film containing selenium and tellurium changing from a non-conductor to a semi-conducter with the application of a specific voltage.

Other Ovshinsky breakthroughs involve solar panels and recharchable NiMH (Nickel-metal Hydride) batteries. Ovshinky's batteries are powerful, long lasting, and don't have memory problems like other competing types. Winners of several American Tour de Sol competitions have used his batteries. Ovshinsky also owns a patent on a type of thin, flexible solar panel, and a method for manufacturing them in very long sheets

On January 1, 1960, Ovshinsky and his wife founded Energy Conversion Devices, which is headquarted in Michigan. ECD is basically Ovshinsky's corporate front. It concentrates on coming up with commercial uses for his inventions. Despite Ovshinsky's advanced age, he continues to work with ECD and new projects.

I like this bit of an interview with Ovshinsky:

Q: How did ECD begin?

A: My wife and I formed the company on January 1, 1960. Our
operation started as a small storefront in Detroit. We
wanted to use science and technology to solve the world’s
serious social problems. We decided to focus our efforts on
energy, in hopes of achieving “the ultimate”—by that I mean
using hydrogen and the sun as the energy source. We wanted
to begin the process of decoupling energy from fossil fuels
to a basic mechanism of photons, electrons, and protons.
Since fossil fuels have been in use for a million and a half
years, this would be a fundamental change.

Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

A: Having done what we said we were going to do.

Ovshinsky has been awarded over 250 patents since the 1970's. He has been given numerous awards, such as Popular Science's "Best of What's New," Discover Magazine's Discover Award in the Environment category. Additionally, ECD sponsor's the The Stanford R. Ovshinsky Award for Excellence in Non-Crystalline Chalcogenides. It has been awarded since 2001, and any person can only be awarded with it one time. 8 people were nominated in 2004. The winners were:

 » Professor Radu Grigorovici
   Academy of Romania
   for Life Achievement in Non-Crystalline Solids
 

» Professor Hellmut Fritzsche
   University of Chicago, USA
   for Excellence in Non-Crystalline Chalcogenides
   for the Year 2004
 

» Professor Mihai Popescu
   National Institute R&D of Materials Physics
   Bucharest, Romania
   for Excellence in Non-Crystalline Chalcogenides
   for the Year 2004

(list stolen from http://www.ovonic.com/our_company/1_3_people/sro_award.htm)

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