Professor Emerita Mildred Dresselhaus, a Pioneer in the Electronic Properties of Materials
'Queen of carbon science' and recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Science led US scientific community, promoted women in STEM. Watch Video
Mildred S. Dresselhaus, a celebrated and beloved MIT professor whose research helped unlock the mysteries of carbon, the most fundamental of organic elements — earning her the nickname 'queen of carbon science' — died at age 86. Dresselhaus, a solid-state physicist who was Institute Professor Emerita of Physics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was also nationally known for her work to develop wider opportunities for women in science and engineering.
"... we lost a giant — an exceptionally creative scientist and engineer who was also a delightful human being," MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email today sharing the news of Dresselhaus’s death with the MIT community. "Among her many 'firsts,' in 1968, Millie became the first woman at MIT to attain the rank of full, tenured professor. She was the first solo recipient of a Kavli Prize and the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering."
"Millie was also, to my great good fortune, the first to reveal to me the wonderful spirit of MIT," Reif added. “In fact, her down-to-earth demeanor was a major reason I decided to join this community. … Like dozens of young faculty and hundreds of MIT students over the years, I was lucky to count Millie as my mentor."
A winner of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (from President Barack Obama, in 2014) and the National Medal of Science (from President George H.W. Bush, in 1990), Dresselhaus was a member of the MIT faculty for 50 years. Beyond campus, she held a variety of posts that placed her at the pinnacle of the nation’s scientific enterprise.
Dresselhaus's research made fundamental discoveries in the electronic structure of semi-metals. She studied various aspects of graphite and authored a comprehensive book on fullerenes, also known as "buckyballs." She was particularly well known for her work on nanomaterials and other nanostructural systems based on layered materials, like graphene, and more recently beyond graphene, like transition metal dichalcogenides and phosphorene. Her work on using quantum structures to improve thermoelectric energy conversion reignited this research field.
Institute Professor Emerita Mildred Dresselhaus recounted her career for an MIT oral history project in 2007. Video: MIT Video Productions
As notable as her research accomplishments was Dresselhaus’s longstanding commitment to promoting gender equity in science and engineering, and her dedication to mentorship and teaching.
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