The eminent battery researcher Dudney appointed to

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image: Nancy Dudney, materials scientist and chemist, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for her groundbreaking research and development of high-performance solid-state rechargeable batteries.
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Credit: ORNL, US Department of Energy

Materials scientist and chemist Nancy Dudney was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, or NAE, for her groundbreaking research and development of high-performance solid-state rechargeable batteries.

Dudney is a corporate member of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She built an impressive career spanning decades as a thin film ceramics group leader and member of the distinguished senior research staff of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division until her retirement in 2021.

Being elected to the NAE is one of the highest professional honors for an engineer. Each new class includes individuals of distinction in various work environments and fields of study such as bioengineering, chemistry, materials and earth resources. They are elected by their current NAE member peers. The final group of Fellows will be inducted at the NAE’s annual meeting on October 2 in Washington, D.C., bringing the total U.S. membership to 2,388.

“Nancy’s pioneering work in solid-state battery materials during her career at ORNL is truly unprecedented. There is no doubt that we will continue to see the impact of his many scientific discoveries as they are applied in our daily lives in the years and decades to come,” said ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia. “We are very proud of Nancy for her many accomplishments as a scientist, mentor and colleague.

She completed her doctorate in ceramics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined ORNL as an Eugene P. Wigner Fellow. A defining era for his career began in the early 1990s when Dudney co-invented lithium phosphorus oxynitride, or Lipon, a solid-state electrolyte. With her colleagues, she merged her expertise in ceramics and lithium-ion batteries to develop a family of batteries using the Lipon electrolyte. Lipon can be applied at room temperature to make thin film batteries and is stable with normally highly reactive metallic lithium. More importantly, it reliably and reversibly transported lithium ions into a battery.

Lipon sparked a revolution in solid-state batteries, which can be successfully recharged multiple times for decades without wear or loss of charge capacity. Dudney’s solid-state battery technologies and other inventions have been licensed by 24 companies, from automotive to electronics.

“It’s been fun and satisfying to help advance solid-state batteries, which promise improved battery performance and safety for the future,” Dudney said. “I am grateful to have had wonderful colleagues and support for my research.”

In 2014, she was named a UT-Battelle Distinguished Inventor for earning over 14 patents – in fact, she holds 33 US patents, 28 of which relate to solid-state batteries. She received seven amazing patents in one year. Dudney’s inventions have won four R&D 100 Awards and three Federal Laboratory Consortium Awards for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

Dudney is a Fellow of the Electrochemical Society. She received a Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award from the Association of Women in Science and a YWCA Tribute to Women Award for Science and Technology.

She has authored or co-authored over 250 peer-reviewed articles, edited three books on drums, and has been cited nearly 14,800 times.

ORNL’s Gabriel Veith, who joined the lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2002 under Dudney, said interest in solid-state battery research continues to grow, driven by its innovation.

“Nancy’s pioneering work in the 90s was just the beginning,” he said. “Through it, this basic enabling technology (Lipon) was the basis for the development of these all-solid-state batteries free of flammable liquid electrolytes and led to all sorts of other science regarding ceramic ion conductors as well as new battery concepts.

“People all over the world use Lipon because it’s so reliable and stable. But the scientific community and developers want to know more about what’s possible in the solid state for long-term energy storage, so interest remains high,” Veith said.

Dudney is known for mentoring students and early career scientists and is recognized globally as a role model in energy storage materials research. Veith has experienced first-hand his penchant for engaging younger staff with new ideas, helping them overcome challenges while giving them the freedom to explore.

“He was a fantastic person to work with,” he said. “She was incredibly patient. Nancy is one of those people that everyone loves. His generosity and kindness are legendary. There are a legion of people around the world who have benefited from his willingness to discuss solid-state batteries, his quiet leadership in this field, and his selfless professionalism.

Dudney pursues outside interests but remains active in the field of solid-state batteries and is sought around the world for discussion and ideas.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the largest support of basic physical science research in the United States. The Office of Science strives to meet some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.


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