Authors John Newman and Nitash P. Balsara on Electrochemical Systems, Fourth Edition

The long-anticipated fourth edition of Electrochemical Systems by John Newman and Nitash P. Balsara is now available.* The fourth edition updates all of the chapters, adds content on lithium battery electrolyte characterization and polymer electrolytes, and includes a new chapter on impedance spectroscopy. Topics covered include electrochemical theories as they relate to the understanding of electrochemical systems; the foundations of thermodynamics; chemical kinetics; transport phenomena including the electrical potential and charged specials; and how to apply electrochemical principles to systems analysis and mathematical modeling.

ECS thanks Drs. John Newman and Nitash Balsara, authors of Electrochemical Systems Fourth Edition, for generously speaking with us in December 2020.

(From left to right): Dr. John Newman and Dr. Nitash P. Balsara, Photo courtesy of

The fourth edition
Dr. Newman: This is the first time that many topics have been covered. Also, there’s more emphasis on physics, impedance, oxygen electrode, and turbulence.
Dr. Balsara: A lot has happened in the battery space since 2004 when the third edition was released. Lithium ion batteries have dominated, and continue to dominate the energy landscape in an increasingly important way, from the point of view of transportation and other energy needs.
Dr. Newman: The book can be used to model and understand a variety of electrochemical systems, first: batteries, second: hydrogen- and oxygen-based fuel cells, third: corrosion, fourth: production of aluminum and chlorine (electrochemical synthesis); fifth: biological systems; sixth: electroplating and electro-finishing; and lastly, renewable energy.
The test of time
Dr. Balsara: In the first edition (1973), John created a framework to understand what happens inside all the electrochemical systems enumerated above. Some applications like batteries are now described by elaborate models due to the need to understand exactly when they will run out of charge. His framework has stood the test of time.
Dr. Newman: People are increasingly understanding (the book’s) relevance and importance. Recently, I was speaking with people at Ohio University who are interested in removing pollutants from water. I published a paper about that in 1971. An important problem in modeling these systems is turbulence. I talked about (this) at two universities last week, a subject that has challenged scientists for over a century. I referred to Heisenberg’s dissertation (published in 1924) on turbulence. He is one of the fathers of quantum mechanics. Many subjects worked on in the past 100 years fit nicely together. I see these all as timeless topics.
Applications to emerging problems
Dr. Balsara: John teaches us how to model complete electrochemical systems. Sensors are electrochemical systems. Increasingly people want to power them for a long time. Many of the principles used to design these systems were laid out in John’s first edition. How do you modify your system to accommodate new requirements? When it first came out, the Prius needed a battery that charged and discharged 50,000 times. This is an example of a system that was modeled using John’s framework but in a way that had not been used before.
ECS fosters innovation
Dr. Newman: I am an Honorary Member of ECS and attended Society meetings in 2016, 2017, and 2019. It is an institution which values scholarship. The three scientists who won the Nobel Prize for lithium ion batteries are ECS members. The Society encourages young people: student membership is not prohibitively expensive and students are encouraged to speak at meetings (whereas I know of at least one other society where students “should be seen but not heard,” as they say). The Society has a balance between the academic side, which is represented by us and universities, and the industrial side, where I have done extensive consulting. ECS covers the wet and dry sides; all the photoelectrochemical things and the transistor things. ECS is in the middle of the technology as it is developing.
Dr. Balsara: John began his career early on in electrochemistry. He built and made the field what it is today. I entered the field when I was about ten years into my academic career; I (had been) working in the general area of polymer science. The Society is where I learned what it takes to transition from just knowing what plastics do, into thinking about what polymers might do in electrochemical systems. I didn’t understand anything in the talks I attended the first few meetings! But it was a great education; I stuck with it, and slowly, I started learning the language and the concepts. The wisdom of the field became apparent to me through ECS meetings. They are where my students go to get educated. ECS meetings are extremely relevant. It’s the go-to meeting if you really want to get on top of the field.
What work looks like today
Dr. Newman: I have been officially retired for 10 years. I moved to North Carolina and work with this laptop. I went to meetings in Illinois and Ohio from my home. And we had productive times in both of these places! I don’t like to travel, yet I can work with people in India and in Russia and around the world.
Dr. Balsara: I run the lab from home. There are extreme limits on the number of people who can occupy a lab. My presence there may be a liability because I take a spot from a student who’s trying to finish their thesis or project. I’m amazed by the Berkeley students and their resiliency. They produce results at a rate that is fun to watch. We are doing our best. I would say we are at 80 percent productivity at this point.
Mentorship is a two-way street
Dr. Newman: We’re mentoring students who are going to take over and do important things. Everybody thought that my career was brilliant because I kept doing interesting things. The truth is that I had students (who) came and went and started different things. Everybody thought that was because of my excellent leadership. But really, it was because students come up with new ideas all the time and keep doing all kinds of interesting things. They benefit from a little guidance.
Dr. Balsara: It has been a privilege to work with John on the book. He is very much a mentor to me. His students flourish because instead of having us start from scratch, he shows us the way that takes us to our destination. And he does it in a way that brings us joy. He’s very, very patient. That comes through in the book.
A fifth edition?
Dr. Balsara: John refers to the issue of the current that flows through the human nervous system, however it has not been addressed directly yet. Perhaps in the fifth edition, we will make that connection more directly. There is a lot of work to be done in electrochemical systems. It’s an exciting place to be!

When asked when he thought a fifth edition would be needed, Newman replied, “When Nitash can get on it!”

About the authors

John Newman, PhD, lead author on all editions of Electrochemical Systems, has been Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1963. He is a Fellow of The Electrochemical Society and member of the National Academy of Engineering. Newman received the ECS Edward Goodrich Acheson Award (2010), ECS Olin-Palladium Medal (1991), ECS Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching (1990), ECS Physical Electrochemistry Division David C. Grahame Award (1985), and ECS Young Authors’ Prizes in 1969 and 1966.

Nitash P. Balsara, PhD, holds the Charles W. Tobias Chair in Electrochemistry at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, where he has been a professor since 2000. A Fellow of the American Physical Society, he received the Charles M.A. Stine Award for Materials Engineering and Science from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2005), and the John H. Dillon Medal for Polymer Physics from the American Physical Society (1997).

* John Newman and Nitash P. Balsara, Electrochemical Systems (The ECS Series of Texts and Monographs), 4th Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York (2021).


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