Stanford Ovshinsky (b. 1922) was born in Akron, Ohio to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Belarus. Instilled by his father with a sense of working for the good of the public, Ovshinsky went on to invent over 400 things for which he holds patents. He first created a special high-speed lathe that was used in the war effort to rapidly produce artillery shells. In 1951 he moved to Detroit to work in the auto industry and invented, among many other things, electric power steering. Besides mechanical engineering, Ovshinsky studied a diverse array of other subjects and one of his main focuses was neurophysiology. He was able to fashion a model nerve cell that was hailed as a breakthrough in nanotechnology. He also discovered what became known as the “Ovshinsky Effect”, which led to the development of rewritable CDs, DVDs and flat-screen displays. Ovshinsky is most famous for his work in batteries and solar cells. He invented the rechargeable (Ni-H) battery, and shattered all expectations by creating a 30 megawatt solar generator at a time when even 5 megawatts was a dream. Although he is nearly 90 years old, Ovshinsky continues his work, mostly on photovoltaic cells, with the express goal of making fossil fuels obsolete. He has been compared to both Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, and is often called the “world’s most important energy visionary.” TIME Magazine named him “Hero of the Planet” in 1999. He has won countless awards and published over 300 scientific papers. His latest thin-film PV invention may soon be powering all of your devices, but you’ve probably never heard of him (until now). His humility can be summed up in his own words: “I’m not going to tell you about it, I’m just going to show you”.
Update: Sadly, Stanford Ovshinsky passed away on October 17, 2012 – five months after this piece was originally posted.
Words of the Week
Study the past if you want to define the future. – Confucius
Estée Mentzer (1908-2004) was born in Queens to Hungarian-Jewish immigrants. She took an early interest in her chemist uncle’s nascent beauty products business. Soon after high school, she began selling some of his concoctions and found success. After marrying Joseph Lauder, the two opened their own cosmetics company and Esther quickly became famous for her ingenious marketing strategies. In 1953 she created a new fragrance – “Youth Dew” – which sold 50,000 bottles that year. By 1984, it sold 150 million. No wonder she was the only woman named to TIME’s list of 20th century business geniuses. She also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her son Ronald Lauder is a fervent activist for Israel and Jewish causes worldwide. In 2007, he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress. For these reasons, Estée Lauder is frequently the focus of anti-Israel boycott groups. Little to these groups know that Estée Lauder encompasses 27 brands including Clinique, Aveda and MAC. Words of wisdom from Esther: “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell hard.” She wasn’t just talking about beauty products.
Words of the Week
King David said, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:15) This means: Seek peace for your friends, and pursue it among your enemies; seek peace where you dwell, and pursue it in all other places; seek peace with your body and pursue it with your all your resources; seek peace for yourself and pursue it for others; seek peace today, and pursue it for tomorrow. – Sefer Ma’alot HaMiddot