Mildred Dresselhaus Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Publication date: 
25 November 2014

Mildred Dresselhaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama yesterday.  The White House explains “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Dresselhaus is a Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, Emerita Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was the Chair of the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics from 2003-2008. 

A video of the 43 minute ceremony at which sixteen recipients were awarded this honor is available here.  Remarks by President Obama regarding Dresselhaus start at 5:20; the presentation of the award is at 28:14.  A transcript of these remarks follows:

In his introductory remarks President Obama stated:

“We also give thanks for innovators who’ve changed our world. Mildred Dresselhaus’s high school yearbook contained commentary from her classmates. They printed a mathematical tribute: ‘Mildred equals brains plus fun. In math and science, she’s second to none.’

“Growing up in New York during the Great Depression, this daughter of Polish immigrants had three clear paths open to her: teaching, nursing, and secretarial school. Somehow she had something else in mind. And she became an electrical engineer and a physicist, and rose in MIT’s ranks, performed groundbreaking experiments on carbon, became one of the world’s most celebrated scientists. And her influence is all around us -- in the cars we drive, the energy we generate, the electronic devices that power our lives. When she arrived at MIT in 1960, only 4 percent of students were women. Today, almost half are, a new generation walking the path that Millie blazed.”

As she was presented with the award by the President, a military aide remarked:

“Mildred S. Dresselhaus has helped uncover the mysteries of our world. One of the most distinguished physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation, her experiments into the conductivity of semi-metals transformed our understanding of those materials, leading to breakthroughs in modern electronics. Her pioneering research on nanotubes has had implications across the economy, from electronics to energy storage to automotive parts. As a leader and mentor, she has inspired countless women to pursue opportunities in physics and engineering. Mildred S. Dresselhaus’s example is a testament to what we can achieve when we summon the courage to follow our curiosity and our dreams.”

The selection of Dresselhaus and the other recipients was announced on November 10.  At that time House Science, Space, and Technology Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) released the following statement:

“I offer my sincere congratulations to Dr. Dresselhaus on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her groundbreaking and impactful work in physics and electrical engineering. She is a perfect example of the scientific leadership that has defined the United States for the past century. She has been a leader and advocate for women in science and engineering and has undoubtedly inspired many to pursue a career in the STEM fields. Her illustrious career speaks for itself, and she is more than deserving of this great honor.”


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