Mildred Dresselhaus

Mildred Dresselhaus[1] (née Spiewak; November 11, 1930 – February 20, 2017),[2] known as the "Queen of Carbon Science",[3] was an American nanotechnologist. She was an Institute Professor and Professor Emerita of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[4] Dresselhaus won numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, the Enrico Fermi Award and the Vannevar Bush Award.

Mildred Dresselhaus
Barack Obama greets Burton Richter and Mildred Dresselhaus (cropped).jpg
Dresselhaus at the White House in 2012
Mildred Spiewak

(1930-11-11)November 11, 1930
DiedFebruary 20, 2017(2017-02-20) (aged 86)
Alma mater
Known forCarbon nanotubes
Scientific career
FieldsApplied physics
Doctoral students

Early life and educationEdit

Dresselhaus was born on November 11, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York City, the daughter of Ethel (Teichtheil) and Meyer Spiewak, who were Polish Jewish immigrants.[5][6] Her family was heavily affected by the Great Depression so from a young age Dresselhaus helped provide income for the family by doing piecework assembly tasks at home and by working in a zipper factory.[7]

Dresselhaus credits New York's free museums, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with sparking her interest in science.[7]

Dresselhaus was raised and attended grade school in the Bronx. Her older brother, Irving Spiewak, informed her of the opportunity to apply to Hunter College High School where she later excelled and gained practice as a teacher by tutoring fellow students.[7]

Experience at Hunter CollegeEdit

Dresselhaus attended Hunter College in New York. Traditionally, a women's college, during Dresselhaus's time as a student there, Hunter College's Bronx campus opened itself to a flood of male G.I. Bill beneficiaries.[8]

The boys in the science classes were toward the bottom of the class... They always used to come to me for help.... That might be somewhat significant in my story, because I never got the idea in college that science was a man's profession.[9]

While attending Hunter, one of her professors, and future Nobel-Prize-winner Rosalyn Yalow took interest in Dresselhaus and encouraged her to apply for graduate fellowships and pursue a career in physics. Dresselhaus graduated with her undergraduate degree in liberal arts in 1951.[2][7]

After CollegeEdit

She carried out postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship and Harvard University, where she received her MA from Radcliffe College. She received a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1958 where she studied under Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi.[10] She then spent two years at Cornell University as a postdoc before moving to Lincoln Lab as a staff member.

Career and legacyEdit

Dresselhaus had a 57-year career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[11] She became Abby Rockefeller Mauze Visiting professor of electrical engineering at MIT in 1967, became a tenured faculty member in 1968, and became a professor of physics in 1983. In 1985, she was appointed the first female Institute Professor at MIT[12][13][14] As the exotic compounds she studied became increasingly relevant to modern science and engineering, she was uniquely positioned to become a world-leading expert and write one of the standard textbooks.[15] Her groundwork in the field led to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov isolating and characterizing graphene for which they were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize.[7]

Dresselhaus was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1990 in recognition of her work on electronic properties of materials as well as expanding the opportunities of women in science and engineering.[16][17] And in 2005 she was awarded the 11th Annual Heinz Award in the category of Technology, the Economy and Employment.[18] In 2008 she was awarded the Oersted Medal, and in 2015 the IEEE Medal of Honor.

In 2000–2001, she was the director of the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy. From 2003 to 2008, she was the chair of the governing board of the American Institute of Physics. She also has served as president of the American Physical Society, the first female president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences. Dresselhaus devoted a great deal of time to supporting efforts to promote increased participation of women in physics. In 1971, Dresselhaus and a colleague organized the first Women's Forum at MIT as a seminar exploring the roles of women in science and engineering.

President Barack Obama greets Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, third from right, and Dr. Burton Richter, right, May 7, 2012.

In 2012 Dresselhaus was co-recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award, along with Burton Richter.[19] On May 31, 2012, Dresselhaus was awarded the Kavli Prize[3] "for her pioneering contributions to the study of phonons, electron-phonon interactions, and thermal transport in nanostructures."[20]

In 2014, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[21]

As significant career innovator who held many patents, Dresselhaus was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.[22]

Dresselhaus' former students include such notable materials scientists as Deborah Chung[23] and notable physicists as Nai-Chang Yeh, Greg Timp,.

There are several physical theories named after Dresselhaus. The Hicks-Dresselhaus Model (L. D. Hicks and Dresselhaus) [24] is the first basic model for low-dimensional thermoelectrics, which initiated the whole band field. The SFDD model (Riichiro Saito, Mitsutaka Fujita, Gene Dresselhaus, and Mildred Dresselhaus) [25] first predicted the band structures of carbon nanotubes. The Dresselhaus effect refers, however, to the spin–orbit interaction effect modeled by Gene Dresselhaus, Mildred Dresselhaus's husband.

In 2017, Dresselhaus was the face of a General Electric television advertisement which asked the question "What if female scientists were celebrities?" aimed to increase the number of women in STEM roles in its ranks.[26]

In honor of her legacy, the American Physical Society (APS) created the Millie Dresselhaus Fund to support and empower more women in physics.[27]

In 2019, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Board of Directors created The IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal. The medal is awarded at the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony to an individual "For outstanding technical contributions in science and engineering, of great impact to IEEE fields of interest." The first presentation is scheduled for June 2021.[28]

Oral history interview with Mildred Dresselhaus on the occasion of her winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. government, in 2014.

Contributions to scientific knowledgeEdit

Dresselhaus was particularly noted for her work on graphite, graphite intercalation compounds, fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and low-dimensional thermoelectrics. Her group made frequent use of electronic band structure, Raman scattering and the photophysics of carbon nanostructures.[11] Her research helped develop technology based on thin graphite which allow electronics to be "everywhere," including clothing and smartphones.[11]

With the appearance of lasers in the 1960s, Professor Dresselhaus started to use lasers for magneto-optics experiments, which later led to the creation of a new model for the electronic structure of graphite.[29] A great part of her research dedicates to the study of 'buckyballs' and graphene focusing a great deal in the electrical properties of carbon nanotubes and enhancing thermoelectric properties of nanowires.[30]

Personal lifeEdit

She was married to Gene Dresselhaus, a well known theoretician, discoverer of the Dresselhaus effect. They had four children: Marianne, Carl, Paul, and Eliot; and five grandchildren.[11]

Honors and awardsEdit

Selected publicationsEdit


  1. ^ Mildred Dresselhaus was elected in 1974 as a member of National Academy of Engineering in Electronics, Communication & Information Systems Engineering and Materials Engineering for contributions to the experimental studies of metals and semimetals, and to education.
  2. ^ a b MIT News Office (February 21, 2017). "Institute Professor Emerita Mildred Dresselhaus, a pioneer in the electronic properties of materials, dies at 86". MIT News. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Queen of Carbon Science, U.S. News & World Report. By Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation. July 27, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  4. ^ Natalie Angier (July 2, 2012). "Carbon Catalyst for Half a Century". New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Who's who in Frontier Science and Technology. Marquis Who's Who. 1984. ISBN 9780837957012.
  6. ^ Madsen, Lynnette (January 15, 2016). Successful Women Ceramic and Glass Scientists and Engineers: 100 Inspirational Profiles. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118733714.
  7. ^ a b c d e Martin, Joseph D. (October 2019). "Mildred Dresselhaus and Solid State Pedagogy at MIT". Annalen der Physik. 531 (10): 1900274. Bibcode:2019AnP...53100274M. doi:10.1002/andp.201900274. ISSN 0003-3804.
  8. ^ "History of Lehman College". Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  9. ^ M. S. Dresselhaus, interview with S. Sherkow, 7 and 15 June, 11 and 19 August, 13, 20, 22, 24, and 30 September, and 15 October 1976. MIT Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, MA, USA 18.
  10. ^ Hagerty, James R. (March 4, 2017). "Millie Dresselhaus Burst Out of the 1940s Mold for Smart Young Women". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d "Mildred Dresselhaus: Physicist Burst out of 1940s Mold for Smart Women". Wall Street Journal. March 4, 2017. p. A9. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  12. ^ "80th Birthday Celebration for Mildred Dresselhaus". Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  13. ^ "SENATE CONFIRMS DRESSELHAUS AS DIRECTOR OF DOE OFFICE OF SCIENCE". U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  14. ^ "NSF and NSB Pay Tribute to Three Top American Scientists and Public Service Awardees at Annual Ceremony". US National Science Foundation (NSF). Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  15. ^ Dresselhaus, M. S. (1996). Science of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. Dresselhaus, G.,, Eklund, P. C. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-221820-0. OCLC 162571937.
  16. ^ "Dresselhaus Wins Medal of Science" (Press release). MIT News Office. November 14, 1990. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  17. ^ "National Science Foundation - The President's National Medal of Science". Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  18. ^ "The Heinz Awards, Mildred Dresselhaus profile".
  19. ^ "President Obama Names Scientists Mildred Dresselhaus and Burton Richter as the Enrico Fermi Award Winners".
  20. ^ 2012 Kavli Prizes/Mildred S. Dresselhaus/2012 Nanoscience Citation, Kavli Foundation. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  21. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  22. ^ "Nation Inventors Hall of Fame".
  23. ^ Chung, D. D. L. (March 15, 2017). "Mildred S. Dresselhaus (1930–2017)". Nature. 543 (7645): 316. Bibcode:2017Natur.543..316C. doi:10.1038/543316a. PMID 28300109.
  24. ^ Hicks, L. D.; Dresselhaus, M. S. (1993). "Effect of quantum-well structures on the thermoelectric figure of merit". Physical Review B. 47 (19): 12727–12731. Bibcode:1993PhRvB..4712727H. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.47.12727. PMID 10005469.
  25. ^ "Electronic structure of graphene tubules based on C60".
  26. ^ Weil, Martin (February 22, 2017). "Mildred Dresselhaus, physicist dubbed 'queen of carbon science,' dies at 86". Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  27. ^ "Millie Dresselhaus Fund for Science & Society". Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  28. ^ "IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal". Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  29. ^ "PhysicsCentral". Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  30. ^ "Mildred Dresselhaus: 1930-2017". Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  31. ^ "Doing the right things". ETH Zurich. November 21, 2015. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  32. ^ "Spotlight | National Inventors Hall of Fame". November 21, 2013. Archived from the original on August 14, 2016. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
  33. ^ "President Obama Announces the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2014 – via National Archives.
  34. ^ "PolyU to honour five distinguished personalities at 19th Congregation". The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. September 23, 2013. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  35. ^ MIT
  36. ^ "1999 Dwight Nicholson Medal for Outreach Recipient". American Physical Society.
  37. ^ "Group 2: Astronomy, Physics and Geophysics". Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 22, 2017.

External linksEdit