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Dresselhaus wins Vannevar Bush award

Mildred Dresselhaus
Mildred Dresselhaus
Photo / Donna Coveney

The National Science Board has named Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus as the 2009 recipient of the Vannevar Bush award, which annually recognizes an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding "contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the nation."

The award, established in 1980, commemorates Bush's unique contributions to public service; it also has a unique tie-in with MIT, as Bush was an influential professor, vice president and dean of engineering at the Institute, and later an advisor to several presidents.

Dresselhaus said the award was a "total surprise," but noted that it not only honors her work, but that of all MIT faculty.

"Ever since I've been here -- and I've been here for my whole career -- we've been strongly influenced by service not only to MIT but the whole country; it's part of what MIT stands for, we're indoctrinated with this, and we feel good about this," she said. 'It's an honor to receive this award … Vannevar Bush is somebody really special at MIT, and someone special in the nation.'

A native of the Bronx, Dresselhaus received her PhD from the University of Chicago, and began her MIT career at the Lincoln Laboratory studying superconductivity; she later switched to magneto-optics, carrying out a series of experiments that led to a fundamental understanding of the electronic structure of semi-metals, especially graphite.

Dresselhaus was the first tenured woman professor at MIT's School of Engineering and was named an Institute Professor in 1985. She has received numerous awards, including the U.S. National Medal of Science and 25 honorary doctorates worldwide.

Dean of the School of Science Marc Kastner, who also recommended Dresselhaus for the award, noted the breadth of work she has undertaken at the Institute.

"Millie Dresselhaus has done it all. She is an exceptional physicist, classroom teacher and mentor of young scientists, and she is now being recognized for her great public service," he said. "It is wonderful that her name is now permanently linked with that of another of MIT's heroes, Vannevar Bush."

Among other criteria, the award selects candidates who have distinguished himself/herself through public service activities in science and technology; pioneered the exploration, charting and settlement of new frontiers in science, technology, education and public service; and demonstrated leadership and creativity that have helped mold the history of advancements in science, technology and education in the United States.

Several former members of the MIT community have won the award, including former presidents Jerome B. Wiesner and James R. Killian Jr., who won it in 1992 and 1980, respectively.

Dresselhaus will receive the Vannevar Bush medal at a black-tie dinner and ceremony on May 13, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

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