Mildred Dresselhaus

In Memoriam: Mildred Dresselhaus, 1930-2017

February 21, 2017

Mildred Dresselhaus, first woman to win the US National Medal of Science in Engineering, recipient of US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and pioneer in the electronic properties of materials, passed away at the age of 86.  Dresselhaus was well known for her work on nanomaterials and other nanostructural systems based on layered materials. She was known as the “Queen of carbon science” and as a wonderful partner to OSA.

Dresselhaus was born in Brooklyn, NY, USA, and attended Hunter College for her undergraduate degree.  She then went on to win a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Cambridge University and ultimately earned her MA in physics from Radcliffe College and her PhD from the University of Chicago.  She continued her studies as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell and in 1985, she became first female Institute Professor at MIT in recognition of her distinguished accomplishments in scholarship, education, service, and leadership.

Among her many awards and recognitions were the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award presented to a civilian by the US government, Medal of Science, given to nation’s top scientists, IEEE Medal of Honor, the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Department of Energy, and the prestigious Kavli Prize for her pioneering contributions to the study of phonons, electron-phonon interactions, and thermal transport in nanostructures. Dresselhaus co-authored eight books, approximately 1,700 papers, and mentored more than 60 doctoral students.

Dresselhaus was noted for her longstanding commitment to promoting gender equality in science and engineering. She and a colleague organized the Women’s Forum at MIT and for many years, Dresselhaus led a seminar for first-year engineering students designed to build the confidence of female students. She was recently featured in a General Electric video that showcased her achievements and status, in a world where scientists were popular celebrities.

Dresselhaus is survived by her husband, Gene, and their four children and five grandchildren.  OSA and the scientific community mourns the loss of Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus. 
Photo: Bryce Vickmark