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National Medal of Technology winner Esther Takeuchi aims to improve energy storage

“Information is out there for everybody,” says materials scientist and chemical engineer Esther Sans Takeuchi, “It’s a question of how you combine the pieces together to lead to a new insight that will allow you to solve a problem or address an issue in a way that nobody has done before. That’s really what invention is.” 

Dr. Takeuchi is a distinguished professor at Stony Brook University with a joint appointment as a chief scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She holds more than 150 U.S. patents. In 2009, she received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama, the top honor awarded in the United States for technological achievement. She ranks among the research elite. 

Before joining SUNY, Takeuchi spent more than twenty years at Greatbatch, Inc., a company founded in 1970 by Wilson Greatbatch, the co-inventor of the first implanted pacemaker. It was here that she was instrumental in the development of the lithium/silver vanadium oxide (Li/SVO) battery, which was one of the factors in the successful implementation of the implantable cardiac defibrillator, a device that can send a life-saving shock when the heart exhibits an arrhythmia.

“Batteries impact everyone’s lives,” says Dr. Takeuchi. “On a daily basis we all use commercially available batteries powering electronics such as cell phones, iPads, laptop computers and GPS devices. The search for better batteries can impact a diverse set of industries, such as aerospace, medicine, transportation and even the grid, where implementation of renewable and intermittent forms of energy generation depends on storage.” 

Dr. Takeuchi's recognition includes induction to the National Academy of Engineering, receiving the E.V. Murree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, being selected as a Fellow of the Electrochemical Society (ECS), and induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2011). Recently, she was selected for a $10 million Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) award where she serves as Director.  

Stony Brook's EFRC, also known as the Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties (m2m), conducts research that aims to achieve more advanced, more durable, and safer energy storage systems, including batteries. The theme of the m2m Center is to increase work (electrical power) and minimize heat as the batteries function. Amy Marschilok, a collaborator, is the Center Operations Officer. 

“The standard of living in many places is increasing,” Takeuchi says, “But that also means the energy use is increasing dramatically. So the question is where is all of that going to come from? And I think a combination of energy efficiency, energy storage, and all those things combined are going to be important in moving forward to address the energy needs of the world in the next ten to twenty years. It’s a critical challenge that needs to be addressed.” 

Takeuchi graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Chemistry and History. She then received her PhD in Organic Chemistry at Ohio State University. After she completed her post-doctoral training in electrochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Buffalo, she signed on with Greatbatch Inc.  

“Greatbatch had a tremendous environment for innovation and for meeting the needs of a growing and dynamic field,” Takeuchi says. “I had the chance to apply my background in chemistry and electrochemistry.” 

Takeuchi attributes much of her early success to the influence of her father, Rudolfs Sans, a Second World War refugee from Latvia and an electrical engineer who encouraged her to embrace math at a young age. She also credits her current success to the ongoing support of her husband, Kenneth Takeuchi, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook. 

In her ongoing energy work, Takeuchi stresses the need for diversity, community and collaboration:

“Each one of us holds a puzzle piece, and when it comes to science and technology we’re trying to assemble this puzzle. We don’t know what the picture is, and if you don’t add your piece then the picture is incomplete.” 

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