Friday, February 24, 2017

Mildred Dresselhaus

History of Science
Women in Science
by Edward Hessler

Mildred Dresselhaus receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts of Technology announced the death of a very distinguished MIT faculty member, Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus, in an e-mail, February 21, 2017.

Professor Dresselhaus was known as the Queen of Carbon for her foundational work which opened the way to later discoveries such as C60 buckyballs (fullerenes), carbon nanotubules, and graphene. I don't do her justice so please read the MIT Press Release below. While at MIT she served as the director of MIT's Center for Materials Science and Engineering. Upon her retirement she was awarded Institute Professor Emerita, the highest distinction the MIT faculty confers.

She was the first woman at MIT to become a full, tenured professor (1968), a solo recipient of the Kavli Prize and the first woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science in Engineering.  In 2014 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Dresselhaus was the author of eight books, some 1700 research articles and supervised more than 70 doctoral students.

About her, Reif wrote, Like dozens of young faculty and hundreds of MIT students over the years, I was lucky to count Millie as my mentor. On this sad day, it is a great comfort to reflect on her example: someone who loved the beauty of scientific discovery and whose bold, rigorous, elegant research is now enabling new solutions to real-world problems. Someone who, personally and professionally, always took the time to do the right thing. Someone devoted to her family, who somehow made the rest of us feel like family, too.

President Reif, closed his letter this way: In sympathy and wonder.

The MIT press release reviews her life—at one time she considered teaching but no less than the Nobel Prize winner, Roslyn Yalow encouraged her to study physics, noting her great promise as a scientist. She did her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago under Enrico Fermi, another Nobel Laureate. She noted that three-quarters of the students in that program failed to complete it.

The MIT press release announcing her death contains links to a long interview for the MIT Oral History Project, an MIT press release on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom (another MIT faculty member was also a recipient that year, Robert Solow, a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science), an engaging, delightful 60-second General Electric commercial titled "What if Millie Dresselhaus, Female Scientist, was Treated like a Celebrity?, released two weeks before her death, and a press release when she gave the keynote address to the 2015 "Rising Stars in EECC" (Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences). This MIT program is for female graduate students and post-docs who are considering a research career in science.

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