The October issue of physica status solidi (b) was dedicated to the 90th birthday of Stanford Robert Ovshinsky. After the publication of the online version of the special issue, sad news came: on 17 October 2012, Stan Ovshinsky passed away, a month short of his 90th anniversary. Stan's passing is an unrecoverable loss for everybody who knew him and also to those who have never heard his name since in our everyday life we are constantly surrounded by things that became possible due to Stan's extraordinary genius. Stan's work paved the way to re-writable optical discs such as digital versatile discs (DVDs), the now emerging phase-change electronic memory called PC-RAM, that has been recently commercialized by Samsung and Micron and used in mobile electronic devices, flat panel TV and computer displays, and hybrid car batteries, to name a few of his major inventions. Nowadays, it is difficult–if at all possible–to find a household that is not equipped with at least one of these products, many have more than one. A single person driving a Toyota Prius car, talking on a recent Samsung mobile phone and working on a lap-top computer with data backed-up onto a re-writable disc uses four of Stan's inventions and every each of them is a significant step forward in improving the life quality.
It is really amazing that these inventions were made by the same person but even more remarkable is the fact that Stan did not receive a formal university education. Despite this–or thanks to this–Stan always addressed the issues that others thought unsolvable, and successfully solved them. The last years of his life were dedicated to making use of solar energy cheaper than burning coal.
The significance of Stan's inventions puts him on a par with Edison but, in addition to being a great inventor, Stan was also a brilliant scientist who wrote about 300 academic papers that laid the foundations of the vast field of amorphous semiconductors. Leaving alone the fact that Stan appreciated their importance well before most others and realised that the range of compositions that can be formed in the amorphous phase is unmeasurably larger than those that can exist as crystals–when many prominent physicists did not believe that amorphous semiconductors could even exist–he was the first one to demonstrate the usefulness of disordered semiconductors. His discovery of the switching phenomenon in chalcogenide alloys, dubbed the Ovshinsky effect, triggered studies of amorphous semiconductors around the world and eventually resulted in the development of devices that otherwise would have been impossible to make.
Being self-educated, Stan mastered to perfection the art of reading books and finding in them answers to questions missed by most others. He had a very deep knowledge of not only academic and technological issues related to his professional activities, but also of the world's literature and history. He liked learning new things and remained a diligent learner until his very last day.
In an attempt to implement his inventions, in 1960 Stan, together with his wife Iris, founded the company Energy Convention Devices. At one point this was a major manufacturer of solar cells but it was almost always loosing money. Being an inventor as opposed to an investor–one single letter can make a big difference–Stan was never interested in profit. His goal was to change the world through science and technology and to use technology in order to solve social problems.
He was inspired by his vision of humanity freed from resources wars and climate changes. With his roots going to the labour, civil rights and peace movements, Stan's personal motto has always been “with the oppressed against the oppressors”. Stan never said that his subordinates worked for him, they all worked with him. He always encouraged his younger colleagues to develop their potential and to achieve more, and many of us are deeply indebted to Stan.
After the tragic death of his wife Iris in 2006, during the last years of his life Stan was supported with dedication by his old-time colleague Rosa Young, now Rosa Ovshinsky, with whom he founded Ovshinsky Innovations LLC to work on solar cells and cognitive computing and who is determined to continue the course they started together.
Stan's image is deeply imprinted in the hearts and minds of those who had the privilege of knowing him and working with him and shall never be erased. The readers of physica status solidi are invited to visit his virtual memorial located at www.forevermissed.com/stanford-r-ovshinsky to learn more about him and to light a candle in bright memory of Stan Ovshinsky, a brilliant scientist, a great inventor, and a most remarkable human being.
Alexander V. Kolobov