2019 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry also taught himself to read and write


Not only is American professor John B. Goodenough a Nobel Prize recipient for chemistry, he also taught himself to read and write.

(I feel like every child who teaches themselves to read and write deserves the Nobel Prize.)

Goodenough struggled through school with undiagnosed dyslexia in the 1940s. University seemed out of reach; due to his academic struggles, his father didn’t want to pay tuition fees for his seemingly “backward” child.

He persevered: Goodenough taught himself to read and write, went to university, became a respected chemistry professor, and today received the 2019 Nobel Prize for his pioneering role in developing the lithium-ion batteries that now power our cell phones, laptop computers and electric cars.

Goodenough talks about his dyslexia and learning to read and write

He has openly shared his childhood struggles with reading and writing, and how he overcame them:

He says he, “had to try and figure out how to cover up the fact that I didn’t read very well…” (Source: AARP)

“It was hard for me to read and write but I eventually learned myself,” said Goodenough (Source: Teller Report).

“…back then, he says, “you were just a ‘backward student’”…But he was determined to follow his older brother away to boarding school, so “I taught myself to write so I could write the [entrance] exam.” (Source: University of Chicago Magazine).

How dyslexia steered his academic and career path

With all its ups and downs, dyslexia directly affected his decision to study, and work in,  math and science, AARP reports:

“At the boarding school he attended from age 12 on, Goodenough mapped out a strategy, steering clear of reading-heavy classes such as English and history, and opting instead for mathematics and languages….The strategy worked, landing him a spot at Yale University, where he earned his undergraduate degree [in mathematics] before serving as an army meteorologist in World War II. By the time he had completed active duty at 23, Goodenough already had ruled out certain career choices. “If you can’t read fast, you’re not going to be a lawyer or a historian,” he said.

After the war, Goodenough entered a program to help veterans study math and physics. That led to him working as a researcher at MIT, and then teaching inorganic chemistry at Oxford University (Source: Inc). He’s now 97, and continues his research at the University of Texas.

Today, Goodenough shared the 2019 Nobel Prize for chemistry with M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University, “for his pioneering role in developing the lithium-ion batteries that now power our cell phones, laptop computers and electric cars.”

goodenough batteries
Goodenough batteries © Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences”

Goodenough is a creative, “out of the box” problem solver

He has so many of the characteristics that seem to go along with dyslexia — perseverance, creativity, ingenuity and imagination:

“I have learned to be open to surprises,” he once told The University of Chicago Magazine, and to “not have preconceived ideas or close your mind from listening to what might work.” (Source: University of Chicago Magazine)

Nobel Prize-winning dyslexics

At age 97, he’s the oldest person ever awarded a Nobel Prize. However, Goodenough is not the only dyslexic person to be awarded the Prize. He shares that honour with Jacques Dubochet and Dr. Carol Greider.

Dyslexia. If it’s “good enough” for him, it’s “good enough” for me. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Congratulations Dr. Goodenough!

John B. Goodenough, born 1922 in Jena, Germany.  Ph.D. 1952 from the University of Chicago, USA. Virginia H.  Cockrell Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, USA.

Learn more

The Nobel Prize in Chemisty (Nobel Prize website)

John B Goodenough shares nobel prize

His current quest

Nobel laureate who struggled with dyslexia

The Inventor of the Lithium-Ion Battery Invents an Even Better One






  1. Mary Avery Kabrich

    Thank you for sharing this inspirational story. I saw him on the news tonight but dyslexia was not mentioned. Knowing this makes his accomplishment all the more amazing.


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