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Obama honors Mildred Dresselhaus with Enrico Fermi Award

MIT scientist shares one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards for scientific achievement with alumnus Burton Richter.
Photo: Donna Coveney

President Barack Obama has named MIT's Mildred S. Dresselhaus and Stanford University's Burton Richter '52 PhD '56 as winners of the Enrico Fermi Award, one of the government's oldest and most prestigious awards for scientific achievement. The award, administered on behalf of the White House by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), carries an honorarium of $50,000, shared equally, and a gold medal.

"The scientists being recognized today with the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award have provided scientific leadership throughout their careers that has strengthened America's energy and economic security," Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a statement. "I congratulate them for their achievements as pioneers in innovative research and thank them for their service."

Chu will present the award to Dresselhaus and Richter in a Washington ceremony on a date to be announced later.

In a career spanning more than 50 years at MIT and its Lincoln Laboratory, Dresselhaus has made extensive research contributions and fundamental discoveries in condensed matter physics. She is also widely recognized for her considerable devotion to mentoring students, raising community awareness, and promoting progress on gender equity. She is widely respected as a premier mentor and advocate for women in science.

Dresselhaus, Institute Professor Emerita of Physics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has also served in many scientific leadership roles, including as the director of the DOE Office of Science; president of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; chair of the American Institute of Physics Governing Board; and co-chair of the most recent Decadal Study of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics.

Born and raised in New York City, Dresselhaus was inspired as an undergraduate at Hunter College by future Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Yalow, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue science. She received an A.B. summa cum laude from Hunter College in 1951, an A.M. from Radcliffe College in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1958 from the University of Chicago. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge from 1951 to 1952.

In its official award citation, the White House said Dresselhaus was selected for the Fermi Award "for leadership in condensed matter physics, in energy and scientific policy, in service to the scientific community, and in mentoring women in the sciences."

Richter — who led the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center from 1984 to 1999 and is now the Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences, emeritus, at Stanford — was cited "for pioneering the development and application of electron-positron colliders, visionary leadership as Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and important contributions in science and energy policy nationally and internationally." He shared the 1976 Nobel Prize in physics with Samuel Ting, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Physics at MIT, for their co-discovery of the subatomic J/ψ particle.

Additional information about the Fermi Award is available at:

Press Mentions


In an article for AAAS, Mark Parker spotlights the career of the “Queen of Carbon,” Professor Mildred Dresselhaus. “Dresselhaus earned the royal nickname through her definitive research on carbon, particularly her work on superconductivity and carbon nanotubes,” Parker writes.

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