Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mildred Dresselhaus has Died

I'm sad to see that physicist Mildred Dresselhaus has died, at 86.

I profiled her for Scientific American way back in 2002. She was the first scientist I profiled for Sci Am, and when I sat down with her somewhere in Boston, I told her I was a little nervous. She said, "Oh come on, don't be silly."

She immediately made me feel at ease. After that the interview went really well.

She did a lot of work on carbon nanotubes, describing them, understanding them, classifying them. I probably didn't write enough about her work in advancing women in science -- she was the first woman to hold a full professorship at MIT, in 1968 -- but then, I saw her as a very good scientist, with nothing to do with her gender. Perhaps I was naive. Or perhaps that's the way it should be.

The NYT says she published more than 1,700 articles, and won a host of medals. I assume that is the number of papers she was either lead author on or a co-author...which is immensely impressive by any measure. My impression was that everyone thought very kindly of her. She was old enough to have been in the olden, golden age -- she worked under Fermi, lived in the same neighborhood and even walked to work with him. Oh for those days. That's as romantic as it gets, scientifically.

She was one of a kind.


David in Cal said...

I feel a second-hand personal connection. My wife is friendly with her daughter. A chemist friend was getting her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago when Dresselhaus was doing her physics studies there. They were friends at that time.


David Appell said...

David, interesting. Thanks.