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Known as the “Queen of carbon science,” Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was a pillar of the US scientific community, earning both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2014) and the National Medal of Science (1990).


The solid-state physicist attended Hunter College in New York as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1951. Dresselhaus then completed postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship before earning a master’s degree from Radcliffe College in 1953. She enrolled in the University of Chicago for her doctoral studies, where she worked in the lab of Enrico Fermi. She earned her PhD in physics in 1958.


Upon graduation, Dresselhaus served as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University for two years. She next joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first in its Lincoln Laboratory, then as a visiting scholar, and later as permanent member of the electrical engineering faculty. She remained at MIT for 57 years, becoming the first woman to attain the rank of full, tenured professor there. Her research led to fundamental discoveries in the electronic structure of semi-materials and has played a pivotal role in the advancement of nanotechnology. She was the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering. In addition to her national medals, she was recognized with the IEEE Medal of Honor (2015), Enrico Fermi Award (2012), and Kavli Prize (2012). 


The materials scientist was a strong proponent of women in STEM. She worked to support and promote gender equity in the sciences her entire career. Her legacy in this area is honored by the American Physical Society, which created the Millie Dresselhaus Fund to support and empower women in physics. Born November 11, 1930, in New York City, Dresselhaus died February 20, 2017, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Physics alumna (PhD'58) who earned the National Medal of Science and Presidential Medal of Freedom, champion for women in STEM


Photo Source: Kavli Foundation, courtesy Mildred Dresselhaus

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