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RIP Stanford Ovshinsky — inventor with an eye on energy and communication

America lost a great Maker last week. Stanford R. Ovshinsky was a self-taught engineer and inventor who held more than 400 patents when he died on October 17th at the age of 90. The name may not be familiar to you, but his work is. Ovshinsky is credited with inventing key technologies behind flat-panel liquid crystal displays that we use to watch TV, work on the Internet, or play with our phones.

He was also the inventor of the nickel-metal hydride battery — a rechargeable battery that now powers everything from laptops to the Prius. Ovshinsky (along with his wife, Iris, who held a Ph.D. in biochemistry and was his research partner for much of his life), began working on improved versions of batteries, solar cells, and other energy technologies beginning in the early 1960s. More than a decade before climate change became a well-established fact, Ovshinsky was concerned about the pollution and political instability that went along with fossil fuels. He spent the rest of his life developing better alternatives.

For a good introduction to how truly groundbreaking Ovshinsky's ideas were, check out a 1978 article from Popular Science, all about his invention of amorphous silicon semiconductors — a technology that today forms the basis behind both thin-film solar panels and smart phone displays. At the time though, it made Ovshinky a controversial figure.

Michigan Public Radio's obituary
A good explanation of the inner workings of nickel-metal hydride batteries
Popular Science's obit (with a link to the 1978 story)

Thanks to Art Myatt for the heads up on this!

Alexander Graham Bell, in love

Marilyn Terrell of National Geographic Traveler magazine says, "I thought you might like this sweet story about Alexander Graham Bell, who was a 27-yr-old Scottish speech therapist and part-time inventor when he fell madly in love with 17-yr-old Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, who was deaf, and whose father was the first president of the National Geographic Society."

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard was only five years old when scarlet fever rendered her deaf for life. At the age of 17, she would meet a young Scottish speech therapist who was destined to shape her life. Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Mabel’s father and National Geographic’s first president, took a liking to the industrious teacher and part-time inventor. We know him better as Alexander Graham Bell. This is their love story.

The 27-year-old Alexander fell in love with Mabel when she was 17, but it was an unreciprocated fancy. “He was tall and dark with jet-black hair and eyes, but dressed badly and carelessly,” she said. “I could never marry such a man!” Despite her initial disinterest, she began to grow fond of him during his time as her speech teacher and their relationship evolved. After one of her first classes with him, a giddy Mabel wrote to her mother: “Mr. Bell said today my voice is naturally sweet.” In a letter to Mabel on the night of their engagement, Alexander wrote, “I am afraid to fall asleep, lest I should find it all a dream — so I shall lie awake and think of you.”

Read the rest here.

Photo: Mabel Hubbard Bell and Alexander Graham Bell. (National Geographic Society)

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Tesla's death mask

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

Spend enough time in a museum and the space starts to take on a personality. From knowing the exhibits—and thinking about what is included and what isn't—you start to feel like you have some insight into "who" the museum is supposed to be, and, perhaps, a peek into the minds that shaped the place.

And sometimes, what you learn is kind of funny.

Andy Tanguay lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Here's his take on what you'll learn about Henry Ford if you visit the museum often enough.

When you go through The Henry Ford as many times as I have, you start to assemble a portrait of a borderline-creepy affection for Thomas Edison by Henry Ford. There's industrialist BFFs ... and then there's Ford and Edison. I've never seen any notebooks with Edison's name and little hearts around it, but whole thing feels rather odd.

So I think it's very telling that there's just one tiny case related to Tesla — arguably Edison's 'Apollo Creed' to Tesla's 'Rocky' — and it mainly houses his death mask almost like a trophy.