Mildred Dresselhaus: IEEE Medal of Honor 2015

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Mildred Dresselhaus: The Queen of Carbon

IEEE Life Fellow Mildred Dresselhaus is the recipient of the 2015 IEEE Medal of Honor “for leadership and contributions across many fields of science and engineering.” She is the first woman to receive IEEE’s highest award.

Dresselhaus is a professor emeritus at MIT, which she joined in 1960 as a researcher in its Lincoln Laboratory Solid State Division, in Lexington, Mass. She studied the properties of carbon there, and her pioneering research earned her the nickname “Queen of Carbon Science.” She became a professor of electrical engineering in 1967, joined the physics department in 1983, and became an Institute Professor of electrical engineering and physics in 1985.

Dresselhaus has made pioneering contributions to the study of phonons, thermal transport in nanostructures, and the structure of carbon nanotubes.

She served in 2000 as director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, in Washington, D.C. From 2003 to 2008, she was chair of the governing board of the American Institute of Physics. She was president of the American Physical Society in 1984 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1997 and treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences from 1988 to 1992.

She was presented with the 2014 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest honor for civilians, for “deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon—which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.”

The Medal of Honor is sponsored by the IEEE Foundation. Dresselhaus is to receive the award at the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony, held 20 June 2015 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.


Date of birth: 11 November 1930

Birthplace: Brooklyn, N.Y.

First job: Teaching a learning-disabled 6-year-old to read when she herself was just 8

First job in science or technology: Staff member, Solid State Division, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, June 1960

Hero: Enrico Fermi

Most recent book read: “One that I reviewed. Nowadays, working time is more precious than ever, and I do not have much time for recreational reading.”

Favorite music: “What I am playing on my violin. I enjoy chamber music, like string trios, quartets, and quintets.”

Computer most frequently used: Apple iPad

Favorite restaurant: “Eating at home.”

Biggest worry: “I don't spend time in worrying. I plan for things and handle the unexpected as best I can.”

Honors (partial list): National Medal of Science; Vannevar Bush Award; Enrico Fermi Award; Kavli Prize in Nanoscience; Foreign Associate, Engineering Academy of Japan; Foreign Fellow, National Academy of Sciences of India; Einstein Professorship, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Presidential Medal of Freedom; IEEE Fellow, IEEE Founders Medal, and 2015 IEEE Medal of Honor

Mildred Dresselhaus: The Queen of Carbon

Electronics made from nanoscale tubes, wires, and sheets of carbon are coming, thanks to pioneering researcher Mildred Dresselhaus.

Read: Oral-History: Mildred Dresselhaus

Read: Mildred Dresselhaus: The Queen of Carbon on IEEE Spectrum