MIT Professor Mildred Dresselhaus is nicknamed the “queen of carbon.” Her groundbreaking research laid the foundation for carbon science and carbon nanostructures, as well as nanoscience and nanotechnology more generally. She's also one of the scientists responsible for a resurgence in thermoelectrics research.
A native of the Bronx, Dresselhaus attended New York City public schools through junior high school before earning a scholarship to prestigious Hunter College High School, where she took a physics course and met lifelong mentor Rosalyn Yalow. Dresselhaus completed a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where she studied with Enrico Fermi and became acquainted with his family. She completed postdoctoral work at Cornell University, where her experiments led to a fundamental understanding of the electronic structure of semi-metals, especially graphite. She became an MIT faculty member and eventually an Institute Professor in the departments of physics and electrical engineering.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, Dresselhaus is the co-author of eight books and about 1,700 papers, primarily on carbon sciences. She is particularly well-known for her work on carbon nanomaterials and other nanostructural systems based on layered materials, like graphene, and more recently, transition metal dichalcogenides and phosphorene. Her research over the years has covered a wide range of problems in condensed matter and materials physics.
Dresselhaus has served as director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and as an officer in national organizations for physics, engineering and related fields. Dresselhaus' honors include the National Medal of Science, the Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service, the Compton Award, the Fermi Prize, the Kavli Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dresselhaus remains active in promoting women's participation in science and engineering. She enjoys playing violin and viola in chamber music groups, along with spending time with her husband, four children and five grandchildren.