Electric cars, at long last, are having their day. Cumulative global sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles reached 1 million in September 2015, hit 5 million in December 2018, and could near 8 million by the end of this year. Essentially all such vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries—as are innumerable laptops and phones, medical devices, power tools, electric bikes, scooters, and more.

The lithium-ion battery’s extraordinary rise is a result of a half century of research in solid-state physics, electrochemistry, materials science, and engineering.1 (Political, economic, and social forces were also involved; for more on that side of the story, see the article by Matthew Eisler, Physics Today, September 2016, page 30.) Of all the researchers who worked on battery development over the years, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has chosen three for this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry: John Goodenough of the University...

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