Mildred 'Millie' Dresselhaus 1930-2017

Millie. Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus died yesterday, February 20, 2017. There was only one Millie.Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her base of operations since 1967, announced her passing today with remarks and remembrances, and have established a fund for those wishing to make a gift in her memory at MIT.nano.  Her Wikipedia entry lists a few of her extensive contributions, awards and accomplishments. Her service to the nation, to science, her students and to all who knew her is legacy.

Dresselhaus at White HouseFor most of us in the thermoelectric community Millie, as she was universally known, was a leader, an innovator, an inspiration and an oracle. With her extensive experience in the physics of low dimensional systems, she addressed the question of the impact of dimensionality on thermoelectric properties in a series of collaborations with Lyndon Hicks, her student, Ted Harman and many others. She became a regular attendee of and contributor to the International Conference on Thermoelectrics beginning in the early 1990s, where her work was always eagerly received.

Perhaps her first widely influential contribution to the field of thermoelectrics came in 1993 with publication of 

“Effect of quantum-well structures on the thermoelectric figure of merit,” L. D. Hicks and M. S. Dresselhaus,  Phys. Rev. B 47, 12727 (1993). [PDF]

This work, with her then student Lyndon Hicks, has been referred to as the Hicks-Dresselhaus model and it inspired a great deal of theoretical and experimental studies because of the potential for major improvements in the thermoelectric figure of merit illustrated in this figure:ZT vs. Quantum Well Size
 
Now, it must be said that 34 years on this potential has yet to be realized. But Millie well knew and appreciated that that is no failure. Science works in precisely this way. Imagination inspires new ideas, which get tested. Some work, most don’t. But there are no failures, only pathways to other new ideas which may work. For her creativity and inspiration, we are all in her debt.
 
Presidential Medal of Freedom for DresselahausMillie was also tireless. She wore a pedometer and if, in the course of a day, she had not met her goal, she walked in the evening to catch up. I can personally attest that she could leave much younger colleagues huffing and puffing as she marched across a campus to her next meeting or talk.
 
She seemed never idle. She’d have manuscripts to review, and write, with her at all times. And she always had kind, thoughtful and supportive words to go with her cheerful smile.
 
Millie was not a great woman scientist. She was a great scientist and a great human.