November 11, 1930
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||February 20, 2017 (aged 86)|
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Known for||Carbon nanotubes|
Mildred Dresselhaus (née Spiewak; November 11, 1930 – February 20, 2017), known as the "Queen of Carbon Science", was an American nanotechnologist. She was an Institute Professor and Professor Emerita of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dresselhaus won numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, the Enrico Fermi Award and the Vannevar Bush Award.
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. 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 during the summer. As a grade school student, Dresselhaus' first 'teaching job' was tutoring a special-needs student for fifty cents a week, and she learned how to be a good teacher.
Dresselhaus credited New York's free museums, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with sparking her interest in science. She and her brother, Irving Spiewak, were scholarship students at the Greenwich House Music School which introduced her to a different world of musical, artistic and intellectual leanings.
Dresselhaus was raised and attended grade school in the Bronx. Her older brother informed her of the opportunity to apply to Hunter College High School, where she excelled and gained practice as a teacher by tutoring fellow students.
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. Dresselhaus later explained:
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.
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.
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. She then spent two years at Cornell University as a postdoc before moving to Lincoln Lab as a staff member.
Dresselhaus had a 57-year career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé 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 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. 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.
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. In 2005 she was awarded the 11th Annual Heinz Award in the category of Technology, the Economy and Employment. In 2008, she was awarded the Oersted Medal. In 2012, she was co-recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award, along with Burton Richter, and was awarded the Kavli Prize "for her pioneering contributions to the study of phonons, electron-phonon interactions, and thermal transport in nanostructures." In 2014, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2015, she received 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.
Her former students include such notable materials scientists as Deborah Chung and physicists as Nai-Chang Yeh and Greg Timp.
There are several physical theories named after Dresselhaus. The Hicks-Dresselhaus Model (L. D. Hicks and Dresselhaus) 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) 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.
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. In honor of her legacy, the American Physical Society (APS) created the Millie Dresselhaus Fund to support and empower women in physics. Dresselhaus was the face of a 2017 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.
In 2019, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Board of Directors created the IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal, awarded annually "for outstanding technical contributions in science and engineering, of great impact to IEEE fields of interest."
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. Her research helped develop technology based on thin graphite which allow electronics to be "everywhere," including clothing and smartphones.
With the appearance of lasers in the 1960s, 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. 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.
Her first husband was phsyicist Frederick Reif. She was then married to Gene Dresselhaus, a well known theoretician and discoverer of the Dresselhaus effect. They had four children - Marianne, Carl, Paul, and Eliot - and five grandchildren.
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