Mildred Dresselhaus is acclaimed not only for her pioneering scientific research but also for her work throughout her career to increase women’s participation in science and engineering.
Dresselhaus is Institute Professor and professor emerita of physics and electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When she was named Institute Professor in 1985, she was the first woman to receive the designation, MIT’s highest faculty honor.
Best known for her research on carbon science and carbon nanostructures, as well as nanoscience and nanotechnology more generally, Dresselhaus has helped advance the resurgence of thermoelectrics research through her early work on low-dimensional thermoelectricity. She has co-authored more than 1,700 publications and articles.
A Bronx native, Dresselhaus earned a master’s in physics from Radcliffe and a PhD from the University of Chicago. In 1960, she joined the research staff at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, where she carried out experiments that contributed to a fundamental understanding of the electronic structure of semi-metals, work that led to her faculty appointment at MIT.
A vigorous and early leader in promoting opportunities for women in science and engineering, Dresselhaus received funding from the Carnegie Foundation in 1973 to advance women’s study in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as physics. That same year, she was appointed to the Abby
Rockefeller Mauzé Chair, an institute-wide chair at MIT, endowed in support of the scholarship of women in science and engineering.
Dresselhaus served as director of the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy from 2000 to 2001, and she co-chaired the National Academy Decadal Study of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics.
Her honors and awards include the National Medal of Science, the Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service, the Compton Award, the Fermi Award, the Kavli Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In her spare time, she plays the violin and the viola in chamber groups.