|June 7, 2010|
Noted researcher Mildred Dresselhaus receives honorary degree
Mildred Dresselhaus, one of the country’s top experts in physics and a leading advocate for women in science and engineering, was awarded an honorary doctorate of science at Union’s 216th commencement.
Dresselhaus was nominated for the honor by Palma Catravas and Helen Hanson, assistant professors in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Cherrice Traver, dean of engineering.
Once dubbed the “Queen of Carbon Science” for her widely recognized research on carbon science and carbon nanonstructures, Dresselhaus has spent more than 40 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she became the first woman to receive the title of Institute Professor, the highest faculty honor.
She also has been honored for her work in nanoscience and nanotechnology, and is credited as one of the researchers who caused the resurgence of the thermoelectrics field through her early work on low dimensional thermoelectricity in the early 1990s.
Along with her scientific contributions, Dresselhaus has been praised for pushing for a more prominent role for women in science, serving as a mentor for decades to countless students, including Catravas when she was a graduate student at MIT and later when she joined the faculty at Union.
“Palma, in turn, has inspired me in how she has combined classical music with an engineering career, combining science, engineering and the fine arts in a liberal education for enthusiastic students,” Dresselhaus wrote in accepting Union’s offer of an honorary degree.
Growing up poor in the Bronx, Dresselhaus managed to attend Hunter College in the city, where she began as a math major with the hope of becoming an elementary school teacher. While at Hunter, she met her mentor, Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist Rosalyn Yalow, who encouraged her to change her field of study to science.
Dresselhaus eventually received a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory. She earned her master’s degree at Radcliffe and her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.
“Women didn’t have a lot of opportunities for careers in science when I was in school,” she recalled when she received Chicago’s top alumni award in 2008.
“When I was a student, I had hoped that in some way I would serve physics -my profession -and society through physics.”
The author or co-author of more than 1,300 publications including books, book chapters, invited review articles and peer reviewed journal articles, Dresselhaus is the co-inventor on five U.S. patents.
Dresselhaus has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science and 25 honorary doctorates worldwide. Last year, the National Science Board presented her with its Vannevar Bush Award “for her leadership through public service in science and engineering, her perseverance and advocacy in increasing opportunities for women in science, and for her extraordinary contributions in the field of condensed-matter physics and nanoscience.”