OvshinskyInventor Stanford Ovshinsky, who died with more than 400 patents to his name, was born to Lithuanian immigrants in Akron, Ohio on this date in 1922. His inventions included the nickel-metal hydride battery used extensively in laptop computers and cell phones (and the Toyota Prius), as well as flat-screen liquid crystal displays and numerous modern semi-conductors, Ovshinsky, largely a self-taught scientist, also invented a flexible, thin-film solar-energy laminates and panels; rewritable CD and DVD discs; hydrogen fuel cells; and, in partnership with his engineer brother, Herbert Ovshinsky, the Ovitron, a mechanical model of a nerve cell. With his wife of fifty years, Iris, Ovshinsky founded Energy Conversion Devices in Detroit in 1960 and became an advocate of renewable energy sources way before it was fashionable. His parents were active in the Workmen’s Circle, and he was a lifelong progressive, supportive of the labor movement, civil rights, civil liberties, and other causes. The Economist magazine once referred to him as “The Edison of our age,” and TIME named him “Hero for the Planet” in 1999. He died at 89 in 2012.

“Everything he touches is new, different, wonderful.” —Hellmut Fritzsche, University of Chicago