Materials scientist and chemist Nancy Dudney has been 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 Fellow of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She built an impressive career spanning decades as a group leader of Thin Film Ceramics and Distinguished Senior Research Staff member in ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division until her retirement in 2021.
Being elected to NAE is among the highest professional honors for an engineer. Each new class comprises individuals of distinction across diverse work environments and fields of study such as bioengineering, chemistry, materials and Earth resources. They are elected by their peers who are current NAE members. The latest group of fellows will be inducted at the NAE Annual Meeting on Oct. 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 her 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 numerous accomplishments as a scientist, mentor and colleague.”
She completed her doctorate in ceramics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined ORNL as a Eugene P. Wigner Fellow. A career-defining era began in the early 1990s when Dudney co-invented the lithium phosphorus oxynitride, or Lipon, solid-state electrolyte. She, along with her colleagues, melded expertise in ceramics and lithium-ion batteries to develop a family of batteries utilizing the Lipon electrolyte. Lipon can be applied at ambient temperatures to manufacture thin-film batteries and is stable with normally highly reactive metallic lithium. More importantly, it reliably and reversibly shuttled lithium ions in a battery.
Lipon set off a revolution in solid-state batteries, which can successfully recharge multiple times for decades without wear or losing charge capacity. Dudney’s solid-state battery technologies and other inventions have been licensed by 24 companies from automotive to electronics.
“It has been fun and satisfying to contribute to advancement of solid-state batteries, which promise improvement in 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 UT-Battelle Distinguished Inventor for securing more than 14 patents – in fact, she holds 33 U.S. patents, 28 of which are for solid-state batteries. She received an astonishing seven patents in one year. Dudney’s inventions have garnered 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 more than 250 peer-reviewed articles, edited three books on batteries and has been cited nearly 14,800 times.
ORNL’s Gabriel Veith, who joined the lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2002 under Dudney’s leadership, said interest in solid-state batteries research continues to grow, thanks to her innovation.
“Nancy’s pioneering work in the ’90s was just the beginning,” he said. “Because of her, this core enabling technology (Lipon) was foundational to the development of these all-solid batteries that are free of flammable liquid electrolytes and has 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 learn more about what’s possible in 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 experienced firsthand her penchant for taking an interest in younger staff with fresh ideas, helping them work out challenges while giving them the freedom to explore.
“She was a fantastic individual to work with,” he said. “She was incredibly patient. Nancy is one of those people everyone loves. Her generosity and kindness are legendary. There is a legion of people worldwide who have benefited from her willingness to discuss solid-state batteries, her quiet leadership in this field and selfless professionalism.”
Dudney is pursuing outside interests but remains active in the field of solid-state batteries and is sought out worldwide for discussions and insights.
UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.