Mildred Dresselhaus, the ‘Queen of Carbon Science,’ Has IEEE Medal Named in Her Honor

The late MIT professor paved the way for the rise of nanotechnology

2 min read
Professor Mildred Dresselhaus with an ultra high vacuum surface analysis system for imaging and characterizing thin film organic and inorganic materials and devices in the soft semiconductor lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Photo: Micheline Pelletier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Professor Mildred Dresselhaus with an ultra high vacuum surface analysis system for imaging and characterizing thin film organic and inorganic materials and devices in the soft semiconductor lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mildred Dresselhaus next to an ultra high vacuum surface analysis system for imaging and characterizing thin film organic and inorganic materials and devices in the soft semiconductor lab at MIT. Photo: Micheline Pelletier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

THE INSTITUTE The new IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal, sponsored by Google, honors the late MIT professor of physics and electrical engineering, who did groundbreaking work on carbon and its thermal and electrical properties. Dresselhaus, an IEEE life Fellow, was known as the ‘Queen of Carbon Science’ for her lifelong research into the properties of graphite and other carbon-based materials.

For her contributions, she received the 2015 IEEE Medal of Honor, becoming the first woman to win the organization’s highest award. The medal is sponsored by the IEEE Foundation.  

She died in 2017 at the age of 86.

ANNUAL MEDAL

The Dresselhaus Medal recognizes outstanding technical contributions in science and engineering of great impact to IEEE fields of interest. The prize consists of a gold medal and its bronze replica, a certificate, and a cash prize.

The deadline for nominations is 15 June.

The annual award is scheduled to be presented for the first time at the 2021 IEEE Honors Ceremony.

DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR

Dresselhaus became a professor of electrical engineering at MIT in 1967, joined the physics department in 1983, and became an institute professor of electrical engineering and physics in 1985. Her discoveries relating to the structure and properties of graphite encouraged research into single-atom-thick graphene, which conducts electricity at high speed. She made important contributions in the late 1970s to understanding the structure of graphite intercalation compounds.

She also contributed to the study of phonons, thermal transport in nanostructures, and the structure of carbon nanotubes. She studied fullerenes and carbon nanotubes in the early 1990s, before those structures were well known.

Throughout her career, she received numerous awards including a 2014 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the government’s highest civilian honor. “Her influence is all around us—in the cars we drive, the energy we generate, the electronic devices that power our lives,” President Obama said at the ceremony.

To learn more about Dresselhaus and her career, you can watch a 2016 IEEE.tv profile and read the transcript of a 2013 interview conducted by the IEEE History Center.

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What the Well-Dressed Spacecraft Will Be Wearing

Spacecraft wrapped in sensor-rich electronic textiles could double as scientific instruments

12 min read
Left, a white woven piece of fabric with three thin vertical dark lines on a blue background. Right, a dark-haired woman holds a small blue square in her hands with a piece of the same fabric inside.

MIT's Juliana Cherston [right] holds a sensored Beta-cloth swatch like the one that will fly on board the International Space Station in 2022. At left, this swatch has three black fiber sensors woven into the material.

Bob O'Connor

This coming February, the Cygnus NG-17 spacecraft will launch from NASA Wallops, in Virginia, on a routine resupply mission to the International Space Station. Amid the many tonnes of standard crew supplies, spacewalk equipment, computer hardware, and research experiments will be one unusual package: a pair of electronic textile swatches embedded with impact and vibration sensors. Soon after the spacecraft's arrival at the ISS, a robotic arm will mount the samples onto the exterior of Alpha Space's Materials ISS Experiment (MISSE) facility, and control-room operators back on Earth will feed power to the samples.

For the next six months, our team will conduct the first operational test of sensor-laden electronic fabrics in space, collecting data in real time as the sensors endure the harsh weather of low Earth orbit. We also hope that microscopic dust or debris, traveling at least an order of magnitude faster than sound, will strike the fabric and trigger the sensors.

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