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. She received a Carnegie Foundation grant in 1973 to support her efforts to encourage women to enter traditionally male dominated fields of science and engineering. For a number of years, she led an MIT seminar in engineering for first-year students; designed to build the confidence of female students, it always drew a large audience of both men and women.
General Electric released a 60-second video featuring Dresselhaus that imagined a world where female scientists like her were celebrities, to both celebrate her achievements as well as to encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Dresselhaus co-authored eight books and about 1,700 papers, and supervised more than 60 doctoral students.
"Millie's dedication to research was unparalleled, and her enthusiasm was infectious," says Anantha Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and head of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). "For the past half-century, students, faculty and researchers at MIT and around the world have been inspired by her caring advice. I was very fortunate to have had her as a mentor, and as an active member of the EECS faculty. She made such a huge impact on MIT, and her contributions will long be remembered."
Born on Nov. 11, 1930, in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus attended Hunter College, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1951 and then winning a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Cambridge University. While she had planned to become a teacher, Rosalyn Yalow — who would go on to win the 1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine — encouraged Dresselhaus to pursue physics instead. She ultimately earned her MA from Radcliffe College in 1953 and her PhD in 1958 from the University of Chicago, where she studied under Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi. From 1958 to 1960, Dresselhaus was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University.
Dresselhaus began her 57-year association with MIT in the Solid State Division of Lincoln Laboratory in 1960. In 1967, she joined what was then called the Department of Electrical Engineering as the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Visiting Professor, a chair reserved for appointments of distinguished female scholars. She became a permanent member of the electrical engineering faculty in 1968, and added an appointment in the Department of Physics in 1983. In 1985, Dresselhaus became the first female Institute Professor, an honor bestowed by the MIT faculty and administration for distinguished accomplishments in scholarship, education, service, and leadership. There are usually no more than 12 active Institute Professors on the MIT faculty.
In addition to her teaching and research, Dresselhaus served in numerous scientific leadership roles, including as the director of the Office of Science at the US Department of Energy; as president of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; as chair of the governing board of the American Institute of Physics; as co-chair of the recent Decadal Study of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics; and as treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences.
Aside from her Medal of Freedom — the highest award bestowed by the U.S. government upon American civilians — and her Medal of Science, given to the nation’s top scientists, Dresselhaus’s extensive honors included the IEEE Medal of Honor for "leadership and contributions across many fields of science and engineering"; the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Department of Energy for her leadership in condensed matter physics, in energy and science policy, in service to the scientific community, and in mentoring women in the sciences; and the prestigious Kavli Prize for her pioneering contributions to the study of phonons, electron-phonon interactions, and thermal transport in nanostructures. She was also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Above, a photo from MIT: Hicks and Dresselhaus publish a theory paper indicating that nanotechnology may offer significant advances in the efficiency of thermoelectric materials, ushering in the modern era of thermoelectrics. It would be nearly ten years before such improvements were shown experimentally, and twenty before they were incorporated into working systems. - See more at: https://www.alphabetenergy.com/thermoelectrics-timeline/#sthash.aq0pJhHk.dpuf
Always an active and vibrant presence at MIT, Dresselhaus remained a notable influence on campus until her death. She continued to publish scientific papers on topics such as the development of 2-D sheets of thin electronic materials, and played a role in shaping MIT.nano, a new 200,000-square-foot center for nanoscience and nanotechnology scheduled to open in 2018.
In 2015, Dresselhaus delivered the keynote address at Rising Stars in EECS, a three-day workshop for female graduate students and postdocs who are considering careers in academic research. Her remarks, on the importance of persistence, described her experience studying with Enrico Fermi. Three-quarters of the students in that program, she said, failed to pass rigorous exam requirements.
"It was what you did that counted," Dresselhaus told the aspiring scientists, "and that followed me through life."
Pages: 1 · 2