Mildred Dresselhaus, “Queen of Carbon” and famous physicist, died at the age of 86 on February 20, 2017. She was beloved by professors and students at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and remembered as the school's groundbreaking first fully-tenured female professor. Dresselhaus mentored many and achieved a number of great feats before her death.
Dresselhaus grew up in the Bronx, New York during the Great Depression. Her parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Despite her modest beginnings, Dresselhaus climbed steadily in rank before reaching “scientific royalty.”
Later in her career, Dresselhaus earned the nickname “Queen of Carbon” because she predicted the existence of carbon nanotubes. This hypothesis spurred and enabled the creation of the modern space program. Specifically, carbon nanotubes replaced carbon fibers because their added strength further supported structures.
Dresselhaus made this breakthrough while teaching at MIT. When she first came to MIT, only around four percent of the institution's faculty were female; now, MIT is served by a nearly-half female faculty—an extraordinary achievement.
In recognition of all of her work, Dresselhaus was the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering. She also won the Kavli prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her outstanding achievements. Additionally, Dresselhaus co-wrote eight books and published more than 1,700 articles throughout her long career.
Dresselhaus was an extremely brilliant person and was described by her peers as “a creative and delightful human being.” She proves that you don’t have to be a man to be smart, or innovative, especially because she did more in her lifetime than the majority of scientists ever do.