Time magazine may have punted their choice of person of the year by lamely choosing "You," but here at Quantum Investor our choice was a whole lot easier. That’s because in the course of our work we stumble upon this visionary at practically every turn in the road. His name is Stanford Ovshinsky, and in our minds he is the closest thing to Thomas Edison that we have ever seen.
It didn’t matter if it was thin-film solar power, battery technology, hydrogen fuel or phase-change memory (PRAM), it seemed as though Stan Ovshinsky could always be found somewhere in the story. And whenever his name turned up it was in nothing less than a leading role.
What else would you expect for a man with insatiable curiosity and a disdain for the status quo?
"I want real solutions," Ovshinsky has said. "Anybody who says that you can’t change the world is wrong. If you have ideals that you want to live up to, you better be part of the solution and not just part of the griping and protesting. Roll up your sleeves and solve the problem."
Of course, rolling up his sleeves and solving the problem is Mr Ovshinsky’s forte. He learned it his youth as he worked odd jobs to support his family during the Great Depression.
His self-reliance didn’t stop there. In fact, it was only beginning. That’s because Ovshinsky never bothered to graduate from college like most scientists. He chose instead to teach himself at the hands of the real world and its libraries.
Emerging from this world of practice and thought a self-taught genius, Ovshinsky, now 84, founded Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (ENER:NASDAQ) in 1960. The company was based on his research into "amorphous" or disordered materials.
Established with his late wife Iris, a brilliant biochemist in her own right, ECD has been working for over 45 years to solve serious societal problems in the fields of energy and information-what it calls the twin pillars of our global economy. And using the "Ovonics" field that Ovshinsky created with his research, ECD has helped to bring new problem solving products to the market ever since.
Ovonics (coined from "Ovshinsky" and "electronics") is a field of electronics that uses amorphous materials able to change from an electrically nonconducting state to a semiconducting state. These states are induced in the specially composed glass upon application of a certain minimum voltage. The most important example is phase change memory (PRAM), which was patented by Ovshinsky in 1960-a full 30 years before the writeable CDs and DVDs it made possible arrived on the scene.
In fact, phase-change memory is seen by many as the next big improvement in memory technology, replacing flash memory. Samsung Electronics Inc., a new licensee of the ECD technology, calls phase-change memory a "prominent solution for next-generation memory designs ands applications."
And Samsung is not alone. Intel, BAE Systems, STMicroelectronics, Nanochip and Elipida Memory have all signed nonexclusive commercial agreements with ECD to license its decades-old technology. Industry insiders predict that these new chips could someday replace flash memory entirely, capturing a $17 billion market in the process.
But it is not only in the exciting new possibilities of PRAM that Ovshinsky has left his mark. His other contributions could fill an entire set of articles. They include:
- Nickel metal hydride batteries-Pioneered by Ovshinsky, these batteries power all sorts of devices, including laptops and most hybrid cars. Cobasys, a joint venture with Chevron Technology, recently announced that these batteries have been chosen by General Motors as the battery system for its 2007 Saturn Green Line Vehicles.
- Thin-film solar power-A true pioneer in the business, ECD has been working with thin-film solar since the 70’s. Ovshinsky’s machines create solar power by the roll and have even been incorporated into roofing materials themselves. Recently, United Solar Ovonic, an ECD subsidiary, won a contract to provide solar power to two new California schools. The 120-kw solar system consists of 1,158 "peel and stick" cells that are applied directly to the roof.
- The hydrogen highway-Ovonics EDC is a pioneer in the new hydrogen economy. The company is working to create creating a complete system of products for the generation, storage and transportation of hydrogen. Its products are "full loop," encompassing every piece of the hydrogen puzzle. Ovonics produces specialized fuel cells, storage tanks and the critical electrolyzers that separate the oxygen
It is an amazing list of accomplishments created by the genius and will of a man very few outside of his industries have ever even heard of. And while Time magazine may have waffled on its choice this year, it was correct when it recognized him as one of its "Heroes for the Planet" in 1999.
While "You" are very important, you probably can’t beat Stanford Ovshinsky. His amazing story is one for the ages and has earned him the title of Quantum Investor’s "Person of the Year."
The world belongs to the creators, and Ovshinsky is one of the best.
Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,