Culture

“Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus”

Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was taught that there were only three career options open to women: secretary, nurse, or teacher. But sneaking into museums, purchasing three-cent copies of National Geographic, and devouring books on the history of science ignited in Dresselhaus a passion for inquiry. 

Credit: The MIT Press. 2022.

In “Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus,” science writer Maia Weinstock describes how, with curiosity and drive, Dresselhaus defied expectations and forged a career as a pioneering scientist and engineer.

Dresselhaus made highly influential discoveries about the properties of carbon and other materials and helped reshape our world in countless ways — from electronics to aviation to medicine to energy. She was also a trailblazer for women in STEM and a beloved educator, mentor, and colleague.

Photo.Credit. Cidgy Bossuet.

Maia Weinstock writes in ‘Carbon Queen’:

“Millie was nothing less than a hero to many, in her home country and around the world.

“The story of her life provides insights into the workings of an ever-expanding mind, the ongoing evolution of societal attitudes toward women and people of color in science and engineering, and the unique power of kindness.”

Her path wasn’t easy. Born on November 11, 1930, Dresselhaus’s Bronx childhood was impoverished. She was the daughter of Ethel (Teichtheil) and Meyer Spiewak, who were Polish Jewish immigrants.

Her graduate advisor felt educating women was a waste of time. But Dresselhaus persisted, finding mentors in Nobel Prize-winning physicists Rosalyn Yalow and Enrico Fermi.

Eventually, Dresselhaus became one of the first female professors at MIT, where she would spend nearly six decades.

In this book Weinstock explores the basics of Dresselhaus’s work in carbon nanoscience, describing how she identified key properties of carbon forms, including graphite, buckyballs, nanotubes, and graphene, leading to applications that range from lighter, stronger aircraft to more energy-efficient and flexible electronics.

Image credit: Maia Weinstock

Maia Weinstock is an editor, writer, and producer of science and children’s media whose work has appeared in Scientific AmericanDiscover, SPACE.com, BrainPOP, and Scholastic’s Science World. She is Deputy Editorial Director at MIT News, a lecturer at MIT on the history of women in STEM, and creator of LEGO’s “Women of NASA.”