Esther Takeuchi has over 150 patents. She’s actually not exactly sure how many there are (some have continued being issued while others have expired), but it’s somewhere between 150 and 160. Regardless of the exact number, Takeuchi currently holds the title of the American woman with the most patents, and in 2011 was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. Most of her patents are for technologies that make our batteries better. In fact, Takeuchi’s first big breakthrough was in medical batteries—the kinds that go into heart defibrillators. More recently, Takeuchi’s lab at Stony Brook University was awarded a grant to do some fundamental research into how batteries work, in an effort to cut down the amount of heat they produce and, in turn, make them more efficient.
I spoke with Takeuchi about invention, being a woman in the lab, and how new technology has opened up a whole new world of batteries.
Rose Eveleth: Let’s start with the medical battery. How did you come up with that?
Esther Takeuchi: I was working in a company at the time, and the implantable cardiac defibrillator had been demonstrated, so it had actually been shown to be an effective concept, and a life-saving concept. And it did have a battery at the time. They were using a battery at the time to demonstrate that the concept would work. But it turned out that the battery that was initially used only lasted maybe a year or a year and a half, and the goal was to target approximately five years. Because in order to replace the battery you’d need to do surgery and replace the whole device, and surgery every year for someone who has heart disease to begin with is just not a good idea.