AAAS member and former AAAS president Mildred Dresselhaus passed away on February 20, 2017. Known as the “Queen of Carbon,” Dresselhaus earned many distinctions throughout her career, including being the first woman to receive the National Medal of Science in Engineering.
She was raised in the Bronx and studied at Hunter College. Encouraged by future Nobel-Prize-winner Rosalyn Yalow, Dresselhaus decided to pursue advanced degrees in physics from Radcliffe and the University of Chicago. She went on to work at prominent institutions, such as MIT and the Department of Energy; mentor notable scientists, including AAAS member Greg Timp; and serve in leading roles at multiple professional societies, including AAAS.
She said in a recent AAAS Member Spotlight: "You can see from my career I had to change a few times, in very different directions for very different reasons. I like changing things. I have another thing that changes my career. So I get an award and I read the citation, and I say, 'You know, I haven't really done all that they say, so now I have to do it.' That's another motivator for me. It makes me conscious that I haven't quite earned, at least to my satisfaction, what people think I've done."
AAAS CEO Rush Holt said, “Millie Dresselhaus went far beyond the cliché of inspiration to would-be scientists. She was truly a giant who embodied the best in every important aspect of the practice and application of science and engineering. Although I did not work with her [when she was] President of AAAS in 1997-98, I did work with her [when she was] President of the American Physical Society, and in fact, she chaired the committee that selected me as APS/AAAS Congressional Science Fellow in 1982. This began a friendship of three and a half decades, although in truth everyone wanted to be, and thought he or she was, a special friend of Millie. She was as knowledgeable and thoughtful as anyone I know about wide ranging subjects of scientific research, public policy, education, [and] science administration, and she was a superb and considerate teacher in everything she did.”
Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS, said “I will miss Millie. She was an advocate for women in science and especially in physics where the numbers have been so low... It is really important that someone of her stature within the science and engineering communities was willing to call out the climate of our fields as problems. While [she was] not necessarily having or focusing on barriers herself, she knew that everyplace was not as welcoming as she found… MIT. And even then, as studies emerged about the challenges still in place there, she was reminded, as were we all, of the need for vigilance. Millie's work was incredibly important to her, as were her family and her music. She found her own path and made a difference for us all.”
Dresselhaus was just recently highlighted in a GE advertisement exploring a world where scientists like her were the sought after celebrities. In this “alternate reality," young girls dress up as Millie and are eager to get the latest Millie doll, and young women gather in throngs to hear the latest Millie lectures.
While she might not have had her own doll in real life, she still inspired many people through her dedication and work.
Very sad to hear about the passing of Mildred Dresselhaus, #QueenofCarbon. She was a powerful figure in physics, and someone I looked up to.
— Jenna Walrath (@jcwalrath) February 21, 2017
— Athene Donald (@AtheneDonald) February 21, 2017
— Maia Weinstock (@20tauri) February 21, 2017