Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus
The life of trailblazing physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, who expanded our understanding of the physical world.
As a girl in New York City in the 1940s, Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was taught that there were only three career options open to women: secretary, nurse, or teacher. But sneaking into museums, purchasing three-cent copies of National Geographic, and devouring books on the history of science ignited in Dresselhaus (1930–2017) a passion for inquiry. In Carbon Queen, science writer Maia Weinstock describes how, with curiosity and drive, Dresselhaus defied expectations and forged a career as a pioneering scientist and engineer. Dresselhaus made highly influential discoveries about the properties of carbon and other materials and helped reshape our world in countless ways—from electronics to aviation to medicine to energy. She was also a trailblazer for women in STEM and a beloved educator, mentor, and colleague.
Her path wasn’t easy. Dresselhaus’s Bronx childhood was impoverished. Her graduate adviser felt educating women was a waste of time. But Dresselhaus persisted, finding mentors in Nobel Prize–winning physicists Rosalyn Yalow and Enrico Fermi. Eventually, Dresselhaus became one of the first female professors at MIT, where she would spend nearly six decades. Weinstock explores the basics of Dresselhaus’s work in carbon nanoscience accessibly and engagingly, describing how she identified key properties of carbon forms, including graphite, buckyballs, nanotubes, and graphene, leading to applications that range from lighter, stronger aircraft to more energy-efficient and flexible electronics.
Praise for Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus
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“A striking portrait of a brilliant mind…This is a fascinating introduction to a game-changing figure.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Weinstock’s biography skillfully makes use of interviews, oral histories, and published materials. The fast- moving chronological narrative offers a clear account of Dresselhaus’s scientific research and valuable insights into the building of her successful career as a woman scientist...Weinstock’s biography will appeal to a wide audience in science, engineering, gender studies, social studies of science, and sociology of science. Considerable attention, both scholarly and popular, has been paid to the dilemmas faced by women in the sciences. Carbon Queen provides an inspiring story of one very capable woman’s response.”
“With Carbon Queen, Weinstock does more than tell the story of a brilliant scientist’s life; she transports you into a world of curiosity and wonder, driven by enthusiasm and persistence. It’s a world that I certainly want to be part of.”
“In Carbon Queen, Weinstock has pieced together Dresselhaus’s story using decades of profiles, print interviews, oral histories conducted with the scientist herself, and new interviews with her contemporaries...Readers are also left with vivid images of the woman herself, as a child on her way to music school; as a high-spirited teen, sneaking friends into the Hayden Planetarium; and finally as a trailblazing scientist who, politely but always with great effect, gave the academy hell for its dismal track record with women.”
“Millie’s insatiable curiosity and open-mindedness is captured in Maia Weinstock’s new book Carbon Queen, which offers a captivating tale of the life of this remarkable nanoscience pioneer...Carbon Queen does not only capture the journey into the personal and professional life of an outstanding figure in carbon science, it is a careful account of the evolution of societal attitudes towards women from the 1950s to today. It will certainly prove a stimulating read to those interested in the all-round struggles faced by women in STEM.”
“Carbon Queen is Maia Weinstock’s account of the remarkable life of nanoscience pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus, who, from the 1950s, defied society’s expectations of women to become an influential scientist and engineer.”
— New Scientist
“When the mathematically gifted but impecunious Mildred Spiewak launched her academic career at Hunter College in 1948, she aimed at no more than qualifying for “something better than work in a zipper factory.” In chronicling the stunningly successful path that Spiewak subsequently traversed as a research scientist, Weinstock leaves readers grateful that this gifted woman found settings far better than a zipper factory. We see how—before Spiewak joined her life, her career, and her name to those of her husband, solid-state theorist Gene Dresselhaus—she found her own footing as a fearless female scientist under the mentorship of Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, Nobel laureate in medicine. Though Weinstock takes readers into some of the scientific complexities behind the revolutionary carbon nanotubes that Mildred Dresselhaus developed, she also brings into view the exceptionally multivalent personal relationships Dresselhaus fashioned while bearing and caring for four children. Readers see how the same energy and intellectual resourcefulness that enabled Dresselhaus to perceive previously undetected structural characteristics of graphite also helped her envision and create an academic environment more open to and more supportive of women, especially those from ethnic minorities. An exceptional biography showcasing the achievements of a brilliant scientist who broadened the range of the possible for women.”
— Booklist, STARRED review
"A spirited biography."
"This lovely biography is completely accessible to non-scientists. It both tells the story of a remarkable scientist and makes a larger point about the perils of overlooking women in science."
—The Christian Century
"Readers both familiar and new to this woman scientist's life and work will enjoy getting to know her better through this book."